On May 14th, 2017, Andy Lamers, who was a Minnesota transit police officer at the time, saw his entire life change because of one incident. According to the Star Tribune, Lamers and one other transit officer boarded the Blue Line LRT train and began their routine fare check. This check is to ensure that every passenger has paid for their trip. When they got to Ariel Vences-Lopez, Lamers asked to see his fare; he didn’t give them a satisfactory answer. So Lamers followed up by questioning the passenger’s immigration status and asked if he was legally a citizen of the United States.
The interaction was being videoed by Ricardo Levins Morales. Morales told the Star Tribune that he immediately started recording the interaction because they have a tendency to escalate quickly. While recording the incident, Morales tries to come to Vences-Lopez’s aide by asking the officers if they are authorized to act as immigration police. Lamers replied by saying “not necessarily.” After that, Morales responded by suggesting that the officers should not be acting on behalf of a different agency if they do not have the authority to.
Morales posted the video immediately on Facebook, and by May 19th, it had been viewed over 1.4 million times and liked by 3.7 million users, according to the Star Tribune. Two weeks after the incident, Lamers voluntarily resigned from his position. Since the incident, the department has changed their policies that prohibit officers from asking people about their immigration status.
According to a statement by Police John Chief Harrington, the main priority of their officers is to ensure that each rider is safe. He adds that the officers do this by following the state statutes. When Minneapolis declared itself a sanctuary city in 2003, the city prohibited city employees from inquiring about a person’s immigration status unless it’s relevant to a crime that’s under investigation, according to the Washington Post.
It turns out that Vences-Lopez not only took the train without paying, but he also gave police an inaccurate name and date of birth, according to Metro Transit. So this resulted in an investigation and Vences-Lopez, who is a Mexican citizen, crossed the border illegally in 2012. At first, he was ordered to be deported, but that action was put on hold while his lawyers worked on getting him a Visa.
Lamers has received a $50,000 settlement from Metro Transit. The terms of the settlement were that Lamers and the Metropolitan Council, who run Metro Transit, have to surrender any further claims or suits, the Star Tribune reports.
Metro Transit spokesperson Howie Padilla says that this settlement was a way for everyone to get on with work. Padilla adds that on that day, their officers just wanted to keep their riders safe, but they are under no circumstances working as immigration agents.
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