MINNEAPOLIS - Metro Transit is investigating after one of its officers was caught on video asking a passenger about his immigration status.
Minneapolis resident Ricardo Levins Morales, a local artist and activist, recorded the video on Sunday, May 14, and posted it to his Facebook page Friday afternoon. Less than five hours later, it had 84,000 views.
In the video, a Metro Transit officer can be seen asking a passenger, "Do you have a state ID? Are you here illegally?"
Levins Morales can then be heard asking the officer, "Are you guys authorized to act as immigration police?"
The officer responds, "No, not necessarily," and Levins Morales says, "Then I would stay out of that, it's very touchy legal territory.
Levins Morales said the incident happened on the northbound Blue Line light rail train on Sunday, when two officers came on board and started checking to make sure passengers had paid.
"One officer stopped the young man and started questioning him asking his name and other details, and that alerted me to the possibility that there might be an incident," he said.
Levins Morales said as someone who has an interest in justice and has seen immigrants targeted by authorities, pulling out his cell phone was a natural move.
"Of course I’m going to stand up for the person who’s being isolated and bullied for simply trying to survive," he said. "In my world that’s a no-brainer."
There's another reason that Levins Morales felt drawn to intervene, though.
"I should say also that I’m also an immigrant," he said. "It just so happens that I’m from Puerto Rico, which is one place in Latin America that we were all given citizenship when America needed more troops for World War I, so I can sit there and not be afraid when others can’t."
Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington issued a statement via the Metro Transit Facebook page at about 5 p.m. Friday, saying he has called for an internal affairs investigation to gather details about the incident. He said the officer in the video is part time.
The statement went on to say, "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. Our officers do this by enforcing our local and state statutes and have not been trained or empowered to act as Federal Immigration authorities."
Harrington did not give any other details about the incident.
Levins Morales said he posted the video to social media in the hopes that people involved in immigrant rights would see it and take action.
"The problem, of course, is much larger than one transit officer stepping out of line," he said. "It has to do with a national environment where people have been stigmatized and isolated."