Cell phone video shot by Corey El aboard his Amtrak train on Thursday quickly went viral. What does it show? Border patrol agents asking certain train passengers if they are U.S. citizens.
The train was stopped in Syracuse, about 160 miles away from El’s destination, for about 20 minutes, he said. El remembers the officers asking two other riders for their citizenship status, and none of them were white. One passenger, who he said was “possibly Middle Eastern,” produced a burgundy passport during questioning.
El decided to take out his cell phone and begin recording after an agent had asked him if he was a citizen:
“He asked me, ‘Are you an American citizen?’” he said. “I scoffed at him and said, ‘Yeah.’”
El said he wanted to tell off the agent but knew it would not be wise, especially because he is black. But he said he was surprised by how quickly the video spread on social media.
“The reason this thing goes viral is because it is outrageous,” said Jordan Wells, a staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union, a branch of the ACLU. “We should be outraged at this seeming attempt to turn everyday transportation into a police dragnet where you have to respond to, ‘Papers, please.’”
In a statement, Amtrak said it always cooperates with federal law and law enforcement officials. Amtrak also noted that proof of citizenship is not required to travel on its trains, only valid photo ID, when asked if a citizen could be kicked off a train by border patrol:
Amtrak initially responded by saying, “I suggest you check with CBP for more info,” but another spokesperson later said Amtrak riders do not need proof of citizenship to ride on its trains.
“Amtrak does not require proof of citizenship to travel on our trains,” said Amtrak media relations representative Kimberly Woods. “Amtrak cannot speak on behalf of Customs and Border Patrol or other law enforcement agencies.”
When asked for comment, CBP gave a statement much like it did following the same questions regarding agents boarding Greyhound buses:
Border Patrol officers can “within a reasonable distance from any external boundary of the United States… board and search for aliens in any vessel within the territorial waters of the United States and any railcar, aircraft, conveyance, or vehicle” within 100 miles of a border without a warrant.