Chicago Transit Authority ( CTA ), on Feb. 15, denied online rumors that CTA security checkpoints, some of which have taken place in Lake View in recent weeks, were being performed in order to verify passengers' immigration status.
Word of a checkpointwhich normally entails a search of a CTA-riders' bags for explosivesat the Addison Red Line stop circulated online Feb. 14. Some social media users shared unverified reports that passengers at the stop were racially profiled, and that persons who appeared as if they were of Hispanic or Middle Eastern origin were asked for identification.
The following day, CTA addressed the rumors in a statement: "We are aware of rumors on social media about immigration status-related ID checks on CTA.
"We want to be very clear that there have been NO incidences of ID checkpoints for purposes of verifying immigration status anywhere on CTA by the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement ( ICE ) service ( nor any other agency ) on our system.
"A possible origin for these rumors that we've heard is regarding how we sometimes have teams who do quick swab tests for explosives on bags of entering passengers as part of an ongoing security program that began in 2014. These bag checks are not new, nor do they include ID checks of any kind."
Chicagoan John D'Emilio told Windy City Times, however, that he and other passengers were indeed asked for identification when he went through such a checkpoint, countering CTA's statement, at the Belmont station late in the morning Feb. 7.
"First, they asked to see my Ventra card," D'Emilio recalled. "I thought they might be checking for fraud involving those. Then they asked for identification. I showed them my driver's license and they waived me through."
D'Emilio noted, however, that all the other passengers entering at the time were asked for identification and that no one appeared to be singled out by their race. About four persons were conducting the check, he said, adding, "The whole thing took about a minute."
ICE officials denied its involvement. In a Feb. 14 statement they said: "ICE does not conduct sweeps, checkpoints or raids that target aliens indiscriminately. These reports create panic and put communities and law enforcement personnel in unnecessary danger. Any groups falsely reporting such activities are doing a disservice to those they claim to support."
The checks have been part of the Transportation Safety Administration's ( TSA ) Visible Intermodal Prevention & Response program. Though advocacy organizations have questioned their constitutionality and effectiveness, courts have deemed them legal. Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for ACLU Illinois, explained that similar checkpoints were unsuccessfully challenged in court in New York.
"They were held to be constitutional because they are not mandatory," Yohnka said. "You can walk away and do something else. That's what the court determined there."
But the CTA checks came at a time of heightened worry about the new presidential administration's immigration policies, as well as reports of ICE arrests and raids throughout the city, worries that the reports only intensified.
Some immigration-rights organizations urged their constituents and allies to be judicial in how they disseminate information about actions they see, or potential actions they learn about. For example, New York City-based Desis Rising Up and Moving ( DRUM ), which mainly assists South Asian immigrants, issued a flyer noting that individuals in immigrant and refugee communities suffer from trauma that the resulting fears and worries might trigger. DRUM recommended not posting or sharing news via social media unless it can be verified with a photo and/or very specific accompanying details.
Yohnka said ACLU Illinois on Feb. 14 verified the intent of the checkpoint and that day urged individuals who might have seen profiling to contact them, adding, "We did not get a single call."
He acknowledged that many people, even some with no immediate stake in the immigration issue, are worried given the recent political climate. As such, concerned witnesses should reach out to organizations that can investigate and help those affected.
"What is really useful is if you can see this issue on a granular level," he said. "Can you get a photo? Have you spoken to someone this has really happened to? More than just talking about this, we need to see the actual patterns and practices."