Persistent social-media rumors that immigration agents are prowling Sound Transit terminals prompted a denial by the city, then a photograph turned up that fueled the controversy.
The Trump administration’s immigration policies have fueled rumors in recent weeks that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have been seen at Sound Transit stations, prompting Seattle officials to assure people that the social media reports were false.
A photograph taken June 10 by Assistant Federal Public Defender Ann Wagner reinforced the Twitter rumors after she posted it to a viral thread of tweets that circulated on July 14. The photograph shows a Sound Transit security guard at the Capitol Hill light-rail station with an ICE logo on a card visible in a window on his duffel bag.
“I don’t know whether there was an enforcement action or not,” said Wagner, who emphasized she was speaking as a private citizen and not representing the defender’s office. She was waiting for a bus with her infant when she saw the officer standing at an employee’s gate.
“I’m interested to know what this guy was doing with an ICE bag,” she said.
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However, after seeing Wagner’s photo, an OIRA representative said the office couldn’t independently discount the rumors and relies on ICE assurances that immigration-enforcement actions aren’t taking place.
ICE spokesperson Carissa Cutrell said agents did not know why the Securitas guard in the photo had an ICE card. She said ICE does not patrol transit stations unless the agency is searching for a specific individual, but doesn’t believe it’s a common practice.
The Metropolitan King County Council has defied a Trump administration’s demand that local law enforcement aid in the enforcement of immigration policies, and has declared the county a “sanctuary” where undocumented immigrants need not fear that something as benign as a traffic stop might lead to deportation. The King County Sheriff’s Office — which oversees Sound Transit security — has a policy that deputies “do not have the authority to investigate, detain, or arrest persons suspected of violating Immigration laws.” The policy also limits when authorities can ask to see federal identification.
In addition to sheriff’s deputies assigned to Sound Transit, the agency contracts with a transnational private security firm, Securitas, whose personnel are not sworn officers and who have their own policies and guidelines. The officer photographed by Wagner was a Securitas employee, according to Sound Transit.
The transit agency said its security personnel “undergo comprehensive training and are expected to treat people of all race, sex, sexual orientation, economic status, religion, and immigration status equally,” Sound Transit public-information officer Kimberly Reason wrote in an email.
Chief security officer Ken Cummins and Reason said they didn’t know why the guard in the photograph had an ICE card. He left the job for personal reasons on June 22 and they said they can’t reach him. Cummins and Reason repeatedly said whatever happened was “isolated” and “unsanctioned.”
“However if that individual was still on the Sound Transit account we would be having conversations with him understanding what his thought process was for that,” Cummins said.
He stressed there is no possibility contractors could “moonlight to other accounts and certainly, definitely not wearing our uniforms.”
Cummins added, “we spend a lot of money with Securitas, they are not going to do anything that will jeopardize their relationship with Sound Transit.”
Although the sheriff’s office does not partner with immigration-enforcement agents, it does work with the Transportation Security Administration, an agency of U.S. Department of Homeland Security, during routine anti-terrorism exercises at transit stations.
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project Executive Director Jorge L. Barón said he wasn’t aware of any detainments or sweeps at transit stations, but mentioned it wouldn’t be unprecedented, pointing to border-patrol activity at Greyhound stations in Spokane.
One of the people who posted a tweet admitted on Twitter they did not personally witness any detainment, but mentioned a man had recently been detained at the Columbia City Ale House, which is less than a mile away from the light-rail station. ICE spokeswoman Cutrell confirmed and added it was a targeted apprehension.
“In this heightened sense of awareness, it’s not hard for them to go on social media and say ‘ICE spotted on light rail: watch out,’ but a mistaken misidentification of ICE becomes a growing rumor,” said Joaquin Uy, the communications person for the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, in response to the two tweets that went viral on July 14.
Uy said OIRA receives calls and emails about ICE at transit stations at least once a month.
False reports on social media, Uy wrote on the office’s website, “unnecessarily perpetuates a climate of fear in immigrant communities.”