A man questioned by a Metro Transit officer about his immigration status while riding the light rail on May 14, a scene captured in a video viewed more than a million times, will be deported.
Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington confirmed the reports, first brought to light by the St. Paul Pioneer Press Friday evening, in a statement Saturday.
The police officer in the video seen asking the man, “Are you here illegally?” is no longer employed by Metro Transit, Harrington said.
The video drew outrage from people around the nation who questioned the officer’s right to ask about immigration status. “We also are working to re-establish the trust that was broken by this isolated incident,” Harrington’s statement read.
Ariel Vences-Lopez, a 23-year-old man from Mexico, was arrested May 14 on suspicion of obstructing the legal process, giving an officer a false name and fare evasion, according to Hennepin County jail records. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement placed an immigration detainer for Vences-Lopez the following day, according to ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer.
Vences-Lopez was released May 16 from jail and transferred to ICE custody the same day “for immigration violations,” according to Neudauer. A federal immigration judge issued an order for removal May 23.
Comments made Saturday by Harrington and Metropolitan Council Chairman Adam Duininck showed a lack of communication between Metro Transit and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office over the status of Vences-Lopez. Both believed he was no longer in custody and mentioned placing him in a diversion program or dropping the charges. They said they did not know he was in ICE custody until alerted by the media Friday night.
“To learn at this point that the information we had was not accurate is upsetting and frustrating,” Duininck’s statement read.
Harrington said Metro Transit will update its policy to guarantee equal enforcement of the law for all passengers “regardless of their immigration status.” “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,” his statement read.
Duininck said the questioning by the officer was “a serious mistake” and that Met Council takes responsibility for his actions.
“We will be seeking the advice and counsel of community leaders to ensure we keep this from happening again in the future,” he wrote. “Frankly, I — and all our council members — expect more from our training and our department.”
Minneapolis artist Ricardo Levins Morales, who took the video, said two officers boarded the Blue Line from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and began a routine check for passengers’ fares.
“It is troubling that something that started as a routine fare check resulted in a pending deportation,” Duininck wrote.
Miguel Otárola • 612-673-4753