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Ride without fear of ICE, King County officials tell transit riders

caption: Deborah Jacobs, head of King County Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO)
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Deborah Jacobs, head of King County Office of Law Enforcement Oversight (OLEO)
KUOW / David Hyde

Rumors spread last summer that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers were asking King County transit riders to disclose their immigration status, according to Monserrat Padilla, director of the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network.

The rumors turned out to be false. But the fear was real.

Read this story in Spanish.

"It may have been fare enforcement," she said. "This was shortly after President Trump announced massive commitments to 2 million deportations in July of 2019."

The rumors led some people to avoid taking the bus or light rail, which Padilla said can be incredibly damaging — particularly in low-income immigrant communities.

Deborah Jacobs, Executive Director of King County’s Office of Law Enforcement Oversight said the groups that gathered at a press conference in Seattle today wanted to ease those anxieties.

"When [the Office of Law Enforcement Oversight] heard from people who experience fear, we sought to produce a guide that could help remove barriers and allow people to travel on transit safely and without fear," Jacobs said.

So the office unveiled a new pamphlet printed in Chinese, English, and Spanish intended to ease concerns. It identifies which law enforcement officers riders can expect to see, and what they do.

So-called transit police officers respond to and investigate crimes at transit and transit properties. Fare enforcement officers cover Sound Transit Link light rail and other services to check for proof-of-payment, while Metro and Sound Transit officers serve ferry terminals and other locations.

You may also see Homeland Security Police with Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response Teams, a federal transportation security division. Their job is "to prevent and deter acts of terrorism," and not to enforcement immigration rules.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also issued a press release today, which said in part, "Allegations that ICE is boarding commuter trains, busses [sic], or any other public transit for the purpose of checking riders’ immigration status is completely false."

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