DACA rally in Ohio City earlier this year. Photo by Emmanuel Wallace
On Feb. 18, the students of John Carroll’s Latin American Student Association (LASA) were aboard an Amtrak train bound for Cleveland from Chicago. They were returning to campus from a conference for Latin American student groups across the country. As the train approached Toledo, the two cars in which the LASA members were spread out were boarded by a group of border patrol agents.
Carlos Cruz, a member of LASA and former president of the association, tweeted about his experience on board the train the morning after the incident.
Seeing the agents board his car, Cruz’s immediate instinct was to alert the other students. However, Cruz tells Scene
he took care to avoid appearing suspicious to the agents.
“Immediately I was just like okay, this is bad. And so I texted our group and I said, 'Hey, immigration's on the train,'” Cruz says. “I didn't want to get up and run to the back because then they could assume something.”
As the agents made their way through the train, Cruz says he started to notice a pattern in how they fanned out through the car. He says he started to feel targeted, as the agents would only take notice of the LASA members.
“Then he asked the person in front of me, then two seats in front of me. And then the person in front of her, all of which were members of LASA,” Cruz says.
“I got up to fill my water bottle and I looked behind me and there were people awake staring at me, so I know for a fact they weren't asleep or anything and they just weren't asked by the border patrol agents if they were U.S. citizens,” Cruz says.
Gabriella Flores, LASA’s vice president, was sitting with the rest of the group in the lounge car where students were playing card games and doing homework. The lounge car was one of the only two cars inspected by immigration.
Flores says she took immediate notice of the man Cruz mentions in his tweets.
“He didn't really talk to any of the students but he was talking to our chaperone before we boarded the train. He got a consensus of what our group was, why we were there, what were we coming back from,” Flores said. “We could honestly come upon a very deliberate conclusion that he felt very uncomfortable with our presence.”
Brenan Betro, LASA's current president, was sitting with Flores in the lounge car as border patrol entered. He says the shock of the agents' presence on the train stemmed from the fact that the students were targeted based on their appearance.
"It's not like they had any probable cause or anything," Betro said. "They definitely profiled us and went outside the guidelines of their point of duty. This is a group of U.S. citizens that are now being questioned."
With the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program up in the air
, as a number of the protections are set to expire
over the next year, much of the program's supporters' concern has focused on protecting the young, often college-aged people affected by DACA's potential end.
Cruz says the incident on the Amtrak has served as a reminder that the privilege he experiences from his own citizenship status should not allow for complacency.
"I'm a citizen. I was born here. But I also have a lot of friends that may not be citizens and any of them could have been a target of those border agents," Cruz says. "I can speak about them saying that we need change. But if I'm not the change then what exactly am I doing?"
Following the incident, the members of LASA stress that their main focus is spreading their story as widely as possible. Their strategies include connecting with other universities to strategize ways to protect potentially undocumented students. They also plan on sharing their experience with Senator Sherrod Brown, a connection they have through John Carroll's government relations team.
In making the events on the train public, Flores says she realizes they are opening themselves up to potential backlash from right-wing communities. However, she also acknowledges that the recent political actions primarily targeting young Hispanic people and their families have solidified the importance of solidarity within the community.
"How are we bringing it back to ourselves and making it stay our story, and of the 13 people that were [on the train]?" Flores says. "We want to be louder, and especially as college students, as hungry as we are, we are not just trying to pursue degrees, we're trying to change the world."
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