According to a May 25 story in the Washington Post, a man intervened when two Minneapolis transit officers questioned the immigration status of a train passenger. The man, Ricardo Morales, took video of the conversation and later uploaded it to the internet, where it immediately went viral.
The incident, which took place on May 14, began when the transit officers boarded a train and began asking everyone in the car if they had paid for their tickets. One man seemed frightened and did not respond, leading the officers to ask if he was in Minnesota illegally. Morales said he began recording at that point because it seemed like the situation would escalate.
Morales joined the conversation and asked the officers if they had the authority to question the passenger’s immigration status. One officer admitted that they did not “necessarily” have the legal power to operate as immigration police. Morales then encouraged the officer to cease his questioning as it was very slippery legal territory. Both officers backed off and went about their business.
After the Morales video went viral with 1.3 million views, the Metro Transit Police released a statement that indicated acknowledgment of the incident and the start of an internal affairs investigation. The statement emphasized that asking passengers about their immigration status was not the policy of the department.
Minneapolis has been a sanctuary city for 14 years. Due to this, the city passed an ordinance that disallows police and other employees from inquiring about a person’s immigration status unless there is a direct connection to a crime.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said that any person stopped by the police, the FBI or an immigration officer has the right to remain silent and to refuse a search of their body or their property. It added that constitutional rights apply to everyone on American soil.
The Minneapolis incident proved that it is important for bystanders to intervene when someone is experiencing a rights violation. If Morales had chosen to stay out of it, there may have been a very different and possibly unpleasant outcome.
Those who think their rights have been violated are advised by the ACLU to file a formal complaint against the offending agency.