Ariel Vences-Lopez, the commuter who was questioned by a Minneapolis Metro Transit officer about his immigration status in a viral video, is reportedly being deported to Mexico.
A day after the cell phone footage began making rounds on the internet, drawing outrage and criticism over the officer’s conduct, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials detained the 23-year-old for immigration violations.
Meanwhile, the officer who asked Vences-Lopez if he was “here illegally” is no longer employed by the Metro Transit Department. It is yet unclear if he was fired or resigned.
“The officer seen in the video is no longer an employee of the Metro Transit Police Department,” Police Chief John Harrington said in a statement. “We strongly value our relationship with all of the communities we serve and fully understand the importance of our riders’ need to feel confident that they can interact with our officers without fear. The image of a single officer’s questioning immigration status is not reflective of, nor does it represent, the practices and procedures of Metro Transit officers.”
Minneapolis Metro Transit police have launched an investigation after a video emerged of a transit officer questioning the “legality” of a passenger.
The viral video was recorded by another passenger, Ricardo Levins Morales, who posted it on Facebook last week. Morales said the officer was checking people’s fares and came to a young man, who did not have a “satisfactory answer” to prove he had paid his fare.
The officer then proceeded to ask the unidentified man his name and whether he had a state ID.
When the commuter said he did not have state identification, the officer asked, “Are you here illegally?”
It was then that Morales decided to step in because “these kinds of situations that can escalate quickly,” he told the Minneapolis Start Tribune.
“Are you guys authorized to act as immigration police?” he asked.
“No, not necessarily,” said the officer.
“Then I would stay out of that. It's very touchy legal territory,” Morales said and then added, “I would not act on behalf of another agency if you're not legally empowered to do so.”
The officer relented easily and said, “OK.”
Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington shortly after released a statement, claiming, “It is not the practice of the Metro Transit police to inquire about the immigration status of our riders.”
“The main priority for our officers is to ensure that our riders and the communities we serve are safe,” he added. “Our officers do this by enforcing our local and state statutes and have not been trained or empowered to act as federal immigration authorities.”
Minneapolis calls itself a sanctuary city and since 2003, city employees, including police are forbidden to ask anyone’s immigration status unless it is directly relevant to a criminal investigation. The transit police is separate from police departments and governed by a regional policymaking agency.
It is also one of the three dozen cities that have filed for a lawsuit against President Donald Trump executive order on sanctuary cities, that purports to cut their funding.
However, Morales say, “You can say we’re a sanctuary city, and it’s a nice phrase, but it only has meaning if it actually affects people’s behavior.”