Border Patrol: We Were Looking For Radiation, Not Immigrants

(Updated) Federal border patrol agents swept into Union Station Wednesday afternoon — but their agency said they weren’t here to conduct feared immigration raids.

A cluster of four agents in Homeland Security border patrol uniforms were spotted inside the station at about 2:50 p.m. Additional officers were holding doors open to the trains as people boarded.

Reports swept rapidly around town about the agents’ presence. Ever since federal agents this month began making stepped-up raids in cities across the country looking to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants, New Haven’s activist community has been on high alert. Memories remain raw of a federal sweep in 2007 in which agents arrested 32 immigrants. And President Donald Trump has signed an executive order targeting immigrant-friendly “sanctuary cities” like New Haven for financial retribution.

Twice in the last day stories have spread around town of federal agents conducting raids in the Hill and in Fair Haven. Those proved to be false rumors. In one case, the rumor stemmed from the presence of an adult probation officer.

But the agents in Union Station were indeed from the Department of Homeland Security. And they remained at the station for hours, on the main floor and on the lower level.

Activists from Junta for Progressive Action and Unidad Latina en Accion, who have been preparing to respond to raids, rushed to the station. Joined by student interns from Yale Law School’s Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic, they followed the agents through the station for about 30 to 45 minutes, until the agents left the station and drove away.

Wednesday evening, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Stephanie Malin told the Independent in an email message that the agents were at Union Station “working alongside TSA and local law enforcement agencies, as we regularly do, to conduct screening for radioactive material at train stations and ferry stations.  The screening results were negative.” She referred questions about details of the screening to TSA, which could not be reached for comment.

City transit chief Doug Hausladen said that members of the border patrol have in the past come to the station with state police and National Guard members for joint operations. Hausladen said officials at the parking authority (which manages Union Station) were not given advance notice of Wednesday’s operation.

A “VIPR” operation was underway, said Michael S. McCarthy, spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration. VIPR stands for “Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response.” He said the operations take place monthly at Union Station. VIPR teams are authorized to screen and detain passengers. See the above TSA video for more on VIPR operations.

“Through a joint planning process, TSA VIPR teams have been working with our transportation stakeholders since 2005,” McCarthy stated in an email. “The teams have conducted thousands of operations in coordination with our stakeholders and continue to ensure communication and operational capabilities designed to protect the traveling public are enhanced.  There is no credible information to suggest a specific threat at this time.  TSA VIPR teams deploy at the request of our stakeholders thousands of times each year both randomly, to create a random deterrent to terrorism and organized criminal activity, and for special events and holidays that involve a large number of people using transportation systems.

Ana Maria Rivera, director of advocacy for Junta, said she was heartened by how quickly the network of local activists mobilized in resopnse to the agents’ appearance.

“We have the system down,” she said, in case the next report is not a false alarm. 

Markeshia Ricks and Lucy Gellman contributed reporting.


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posted by: Noteworthy on February 15, 2017  9:43pm

Junta and Unidad along with their lawyers, followed Homeland Security Officers, not ICE, around the train station. I’m sorry but these people are nuts. They are spreading fear and doing a grave disservice to New Haven, to law enforcement and frankly, to the people they allegedly represent. This silly behavior has to stop.

posted by: Chip on February 16, 2017  12:39am

Sorry, they have every right to follow the agents, particularly when agents had not announced to the station personnel ahead of time what they were doing, so they were the ones spreading fear! This is not yet a fascist military state! But they were making it look like one! With the disarray (now in news every hour) in the Trump administration, their is NO trust in the government and government actions, particularly regarding the chaotic actions on immigration by ICE! The Trump administration has brought this distrust to an all time high and it is their responsibility to restore it and earn it back! But if you see the news, it looks highly unlikely that will happen soon.

posted by: narcan on February 16, 2017  3:35am

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on occasion arrests people who are illegally within US borders.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is routinely at train stations, seaports, and airports conducting sweeps and assessments for terrorism.

How desperate for drama are these people? What’s next? Youtube videos and chanting about police fascism when a traffic warden slaps a ticket on a parked car?

posted by: Timothy G. ORourke Jr. on February 16, 2017  5:46am

There is something very disturbing about the bearing of law students interfering with federal law enforcement agents with the presumption that the agents would even be doing anything wrong if they were here to arrest illegal immigrants, but, in the end, the agents were here to deter other crimes. A mob mentality from prospective lawyers will only more easily justify implementing the law.

posted by: Peter99 on February 16, 2017  6:41am

The federal agents, and their law enforcement counterparts, have every right to be at Union Station conducting any lawful enforcement activity. If they come across illegal activities of any nature they can enforce the law, regardless of the opinion of anyone. People in this country illegally can be detained and deported even if they have not committed a crime secondary to entering the country by illegal means. This includes entering the country legally on a visa and then overstaying that visa. These feel good activities by activists are not illegal unless they interfere with law enforcement activities, but if they impede enforcement activity then they are subject to arrest. I would suspect that, eventually, federal agents will start arresting activists who impede their activities on federal charges which will not simply be a summons to appear. Activist will be locked up on federal charges and fined/incarcerated to the maximum allowed by law to dissuade further interference. This will probably get very ugly before it gets resolved.

posted by: Chip on February 16, 2017  8:11am

No this is NOT a military state yet, though you really seem to want one! You are ignoring presumption of innocence, jurisdiction, due process, probable cause and the fact that it is NOT illegal to be in this country undocumented.

SCOTUS Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority opinion on SB 1070, Arizona’s controversial immigration law: “As a general rule, it is not a crime for a movable alien to remain in the United States.” In a country that believes in due process of the law, calling an immigrant illegal is akin to calling a defendant awaiting trial a criminal. The term illegal is also imprecise. For many undocumented people — there are 11 million in the U.S. and most have immediate family members who are American citizens, either by birth or naturalization — their immigration status is fluid depends on individual circumstances!

These are not “feel good activists;” they are guardians of justice and have every right and full support of the law to be there monitoring law enforcement! Sorry, this is not the fascist state that you seem to desperately want!  And of course, you demonstrate a horrible, shameful lack of compassion!

posted by: alphabravocharlie on February 16, 2017  8:39am

Following agents around seems innocuous but what are their plans if the agents stop someone? Are they going to try and physically interfere? Are the going to harass the agents dividing their attention between the person stopped and the “observers” thereby endangering everyone’s safety?

They’re walking a fine line here and better make sure they’re on firm legal ground.

posted by: jim1 on February 16, 2017  10:30am

Did they have hunting permits?

posted by: Peter99 on February 16, 2017  1:29pm

A person has to be given permission to be in this country if they have entered from another country and are not a US citizen. That permission can take several forms, visa etc. If you enter the this country without legally going through border control, then you are breaking the law. If you overstay your visa, then you are breaking the law.
U.S. federal law requires all aliens over the age of 14 who remain in the United States for longer than 30 days to register with the U.S. government, and to have registration documents in their possession at all times; violation of this requirement is a federal misdemeanor crime. You are mixing (Arizona S.B. 1030) and a very narrowly defined ruling which upheld the most hotly defined part of a state law, and federal law which supersedes state law. You cannot pick and choose parts of rulings to support your view.
Your “guardians of justice” are allowed to exercise their rights under the first amendment, but they are not allowed to break the law of the land. I do not want a fascist state, just a state where the law is respected. If you do not like a law, lobby to change it, do not just break it. I do not like the fact that there are 11 million folks that have broken the law. I do respect the fact that their children who were born here are United States citizens and entitled to remain here.  The people that chose to break our law created the problem of illegal immigration status parents and legal children. They now must deal with the consequences of their actions. Compassion does not mix well with the law.

posted by: Ch H on February 16, 2017  3:26pm

As with the recent situation at U.S. airports, lawyers are showing up to make sure that anyone who’s detained gets legal counsel.