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Chief Responds To Video Showing Officer Ask Man About Immigration

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minneapolis Metro Transit are investigating an incident shown on video in which a transit officer asks a light-rail passenger about his immigration status.

The agency announced it was investigating after Minneapolis artist Ricardo Levins Morales posted video of the incident to his Facebook page on Friday.

Morales says the officer was checking passenger fares, which is routine. The video shows the officer asking one passenger for identification and saying, "Are you here illegally?"

Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington
Chief John Harrington (credit: CBS)

Morales then asked the officer if he was authorized to act as an immigration agent and the officer responded, "No, not necessarily." The unidentified passenger has his back to Morales during the recording.

Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington said in a statement that it's not his agency's practice to inquire about immigration status. He's asked for an internal investigation.

The incident happened May 14.

Mitchell Hamline Law Professor Ana Pottratz Acosta specializes in immigration law.

Pottratz Acosta watched the video and said the problem is state and local officers are not supposed to enforce federal immigration laws.

"Immigration enforcement actions are typically done by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)," Pottratz Acosta said. "Any local issue like when someone is riding on the train without paying fare, or if a crime was occurring on the light rail would be appropriate for the police to step in, but this really was something that was outside their scope of responsibilities."

Pottratz Acosta called the video troubling.

"State and local law enforcement run the risk of inadvertently committing some type of discrimination," Pottratz Acosta said. "Their actions could be viewed as profiling."

Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington's full statement from Friday reads as follows:

"This afternoon, community members and partners alerted me to a situation in which one of my part time officers was witnessed asking an individual whether he was in the state illegally. I immediately called for an Internal Affairs investigation to gather the details about this incident and to report back to me as quickly as possible.

"It is not the practice of the Metro Transit police to inquire about the immigration status of our riders. Our policy states:

"'It is the policy of the Metro Transit Police Department that all members make personal and professional commitments to equal enforcement of the law and equal service to the public. Confidence in this commitment will increase the effectiveness of this department in protecting and serving the entire community and recognizing the dignity of all persons, regardless of their immigration status.'

"Metro Transit and our parent organization, the Metropolitan Council, believe strongly in the need for our riders to feel safe in our relationship with our officers. The main priority for our officers is to ensure that our riders and the communities we serve are safe. Our officers do this by enforcing our local and state statutes and have not been trained or empowered to act as Federal Immigration authorities.

"At this time, no further details regarding this specific incident are available."

Metro Transit did not share the current employment status of the part-time officer in the video as of Saturday.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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