Border Patrol Harrassment at the Regional Transportation Center

On Saturday, July 5, I went to the Regional Transportation Center to catch a bus from Syracuse to Utica to visit my family. Despite the holiday weekend, there were only about a dozen people sitting on the bus. Everything seemed ready for an on-time departure, but instead of our driver stepping on board, three border patrol agents in green uniforms boarded the bus.

I had seen them earlier chatting with some bus station personnel - baggage loaders, drivers, etc. - outside the bus. The first agent walked all the way to the back of the bus, looking at each person, but not saying anything. The second began moving up the aisle, while the third remained in the doorway. The second agent stopped by an Asian-looking young man and began questioning him about his citizenship.

By this point, the first agent had begun walking toward the front of the bus. I asked why they were only questioning this one man, and the first agent stopped in front of me and said, "We're asking everyone. I'm coming to you right now. What country are you a citizen of?" I replied that I was a citizen of the US, and he turned away from me. I pointed out that he hadn't asked me for any documentation but had insisted on documentation from the man they were questioning (who showed a valid id). I repeated that I didn't hear them ask anyone else on the bus about their citizenship status and pointed out that this was racial profiling. They insisted that they were asking everyone and that I didn't understand the law. I insisted that they were racially profiling and that people in the community were very disturbed by what was happening.

What struck me most was how quickly and easily the border patrol agents lied to me both about my rights and what I had just witnessed with my own eyes. Below is an "Immigrant Rights Card" from the American Civil Liberties Union. While border patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents may not respect your rights or outright lie to you, the first step to taking some control over a situation is to be confident that you do know your rights. Familiarize yourself and your friends with the information below (also available at www.aclu.org). Think ahead about how you might respond to common questions and scenarios. Armed, uniformed agents can be intimidating, and they've had a lot of practice in questioning people. It can be difficult to know what to do when you witness or are the target of ICE harassment. I completely forgot to ask for the names of the officers who had boarded the bus - a basic step that I might have remembered if I had thought through the situation ahead of time. Use the scenarios below as a starting point, and have a plan before you find yourself across the aisle from border patrol.

-Jessica Maxwell