Immigration Police Making Travelers Uneasy on Trains, Planes

February 24, 2017 Americans are reporting unusual and disturbing incidents on both air and ground transportation systems across the country.

Delta Airlines passengers in New York City are questioning an incident at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Wednesday in which they were met by Customs and Border Protection agents when they exited the plane. One passenger, Kelley Amadei told a local news station when her family disembarked from Delta Flight 1583, they were greeted by two Customs and Border Protection agents standing at the jet bridge entrance. Ms. Amadei said CBP agents studied both her and her wife’s identification cards carefully before focusing on her 7-year-old son. Amadei said she has flown on “millions” of domestic flights and never experienced anything like it.

Witnesses said as the Delta Airlines flight from San Francisco to New York City taxied to the gate, a flight attendant told passengers to have their travel documents ready for inspection before leaving the plane.

Local news station NBC4 in New York City reports that a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman confirmed the incident in a statement on Thursday afternoon, saying they were looking for a specific person.

“This individual was ordered removed by an immigration judge,” he said in a statement to NBC 4 New York. “To assist our law enforcement partners, two CBP officers requested identification from those on the flight in order
to help identify the individual. The individual was determined not to be on the flight.”

Some Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Red Line passengers in Chicago took to Twitter to report a similar incident on Valentines Day, in which U.S. Department of Homeland Security personnel and local police conducted bag searches at the Addison Red Line station. Witnesses said that
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took part in the searches and were targeting people of Hispanic and Middle Eastern descent. A spokesperson from Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) denied the agency’s involvement, calling the reports “false, dangerous and irresponsible.”

The Chicago Police Department and CTA officials confirmed the incident. A CTA spokesperson told NBC News in Chicago the screenings are conducted with agents from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), but are unrelated to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – both of which are part of the Department of Homeland Security.

“At the request of the Chicago Transit Authority, TSA deployed its Visible Intermodal Prevention & Response (VIPR) team to provide additional prevention and response capabilities,” a TSA spokesperson said in a statement. “Security operations such as these are conducted throughout the nation in partnership with law enforcement and security authorities in all modes of transportation to include mass transit, rail, air and maritime”

Both incidents were described as routine counterterrorism measures that started after 9/11. In recent years, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s controversial TSA Visible Intermodal Prevention Response (VIPR) teams, comprised of TSA officers, Air Marshals, CBP, and ICE along with state and law enforcement officers have been reported in cities across the country. Since 2010, VIPR teams have been spotted on buses, trains, ships, ferries, subways, and highways.

After a VIPR operation in Tampa, Florida in 2010, a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agent admitted to targeting illegal immigrants. Customs and Border Patrol and ICE agents in Iowa, California and several other states have been accused of racial profiling.

It is possible that people are more alert in the wake of the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants in January. On Thursday, President Trump called his plan to deport undocumented immigrants a “military operation,” a comment that seemed to undercut Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly’s assurances that there would be “no mass deportations” or use of the U.S. military in immigration enforcement plans.

SEE ALSO: VIPR Team Conducts Bag Checks in Chicago

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