Are you a United States Citizen? Border Patrol checking local Amtrak routes

February 05, 2018 06:27 PM

A handful of people were questioned by Border Patrol Agents on an Amtrak train that was nearly 100 miles away from the nearest border crossing last week.  

Now, some of those people wonder whether they were profiled and if their civil liberties were violated.    

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The incident happened on an Amtrak train that made a scheduled stop in Syracuse to pick up passengers.  At that time, agents boarded the train and asked at least four people whether they were citizens of the United States.

Corey El was one of those passengers.  He was heading from New York City to Niagara Falls to visit friends and family members, 

“The first officer walked into the car and he was just like, ‘hey... are you an American Citizen?’” El tells News10NBC.   El said he was taken aback by the question but answered yes. 

“As he started to walk away, I said, ‘I feel like this is not a legal thing for you to do,’ and he just kind of stared at me and ignored me,’ El added. “He continued to walk down and picked out random people.” 

El took out his cell phone and recorded the agent asking other passengers the same thing.  He shared the video on social media and it has now been viewed nearly 700,000 times.  

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects Americans from random and arbitrary stops and searches, but it appears that doesn’t apply when you’re within certain proximity of a border crossing.  

A spokesman for U.S. Border Patrol told News10NBC, “Although most Border Patrol work is conducted in the immediate border area, agents have broad law enforcement authorities, including the authority to question individuals, make arrests, and take and consider evidence. The Immigration and Nationality Act 287(a)(3) and 8 USC 1357 state that Immigration Officers, without a warrant, may ;within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States...board and search for aliens in any vessel within the territorial waters of the United States and any railcar, aircraft, conveyance, or vehicle.’ 8 CFR 287 (a)(1) defines reasonable distance as 100 air miles from the border.”
Syracuse is 97 miles from the nearest Canadian crossing.  Rochester, Buffalo and a hundreds of other towns and cities in New York and across the Northeast are also within the radius.  Enforcement actions, according to U.S. Border Patrol, away from the border within its jurisdiction are “performed in direct support of immediate border enforcement efforts and as a means of preventing smuggling and criminal organizations from exploiting existing transportation hubs to travel to the interior of the United States.”  The operations at transportation hubs, they say, serve as a vital component of the U.S. Border Patrol’s national security efforts.
“They can pretty much do anything they want to,” said says Anthony Guidice, an immigration attorney in Rochester. “If you piss them off they can search you, cuff you, put you into custody and keep you there for 24 hours, just to teach you a lesson if you get uppity with them. Doesn’t matter of if you’re an American Citizen or not,” 

Guidice says most aliens can’t get a driver’s license so, “they use a lot of public transportation that's why ICE and Border Patrol agents look for them on trains or even airports,” he said.  

He added that he’s not surprised by the incident.  

El was so bothered by it that he spoke with the Amtrak conductor.

 “He told me that Border Patrol does get this route often,” El said. “He had recently been assigned to this route and said the last three trips, they had gotten on board in both Buffalo and Syracuse, and he says they actually have a list of passengers that are onboard the train,” he said.


Jennifer Lewke

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