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Immigration activists' recording raises questions about border patrol agents

Sheila Sicilia
A screenshot from video recorded at the Regional Transportation Center in Syracuse.

Immigration activists filming federal border patrol agents questioning the citizenship status of travelers at the Regional Transportation Center in Syracuse has raised questions about the treatment of foreign-born residents. However, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said those agents are following the law.

Last week, Sheila Sicilia filmed federal agents asking people at the transportation center if they are U.S. citizens.

"We need to basically protect our country from what’s taking it over," Sicilia said. "Some people don’t want to call it fascism, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck."

Members of the Syracuse Immigrant and Refugee Defense Network have been checking the center once or twice a week for a few months now. Sicilia said on Thursday, one of those members witnessed a person being taken off an Amtrak train by border patrol.

"They're really, trying to make people think they have to do things that they don't," Sicilia said. "They don't even have to answer the question of are you a citizen. When he asked me I said I don't have to answer that. He said okay, have a nice day and walked on. Everybody has the right to do that but they don't know it. They see this big authority figure and it's intimidation and it's not what our country is about."

Yusuf Abdul-Qadir with the New York Civil Liberties Union said these actions by border patrol are part of a pattern happening across the country.

“Border patrol doesn’t have unlimited power, to search people without reasonable suspicion," Abdul-Qadir said. "We're concerned that people may be singled out or targeted because of the color of their skin or the perception of what their status may be.”

But a Customs and Border Protection spokesperson said immigration officers have the right to board and search for aliens in any vehicle, without a warrant, 100 miles from the border. The agency claims these actions prevent trafficking, smuggling and are vital to national security.

Their full statement is below.

“For decades, the U.S. Border Patrol has been performing enforcement actions away from the immediate border in direct support of border enforcement efforts and as a means of preventing trafficking, smuggling and other criminal organizations from exploiting our public and private transportation infrastructure to travel to the interior of the United States. These operations serve as a vital component of the U.S. Border Patrol’s national security efforts.
Although most Border Patrol work is conducted in the immediate border area, agents have broad law enforcement authorities and are not limited to a specific geography within the United States. They have the authority to question individuals, make arrests, and take and consider evidence.
The Immigration and Nationality Act 287(a)(3) and 8 USC 1357 state that Immigration Officers, without a warrant, may "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”. 8 CFR 287 (a)(1) defines reasonable distance as 100 air miles from the border.”

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