Over the weekend, rumors swirled in Seattle that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were roaming Link light rail stations. It now appears those rumors were inaccurate. (More on that in a minute.)
But the reported sightings—which came amid an ongoing immigration crackdown by the Trump Administration and just a few days after ICE detained a Columbia City Ale House employee—highlighted a familiar phenomenon.
People who support immigrants want to quickly share information about potential ICE threats. But doing so without confirmation can unnecessarily stoke fears.
The pattern has played out across the country in recent years, particularly during times when the federal government is cracking down. The result, according to advocates, is even more stress among immigrant communities.
“People don’t go to work, don’t go to their doctor's appointments, don’t go to school,” says Monserrat Padilla, a coordinator with the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network (WAISN), an organization started by several local immigrant rights organizations to vet reports of ICE activity. “Families are in fear and people go into survival mode.”
“Even for me,” Padilla added. “I am a coordinator of this network. When I started hearing rumors, part of me is knowledgeable. I knew this information is wrong. And the other part of my brain goes into survival mode. I am under attack.”
Call WAISN’s hotline: 1-844-724-3737.
WAISN volunteers work to confirm reports they receive and then distribute that information to immigrants and other affected communities. Reporting to the hotline can not only help verify the officers are in fact ICE, but can help summon legal advocates and others to assist the people being targeted, as it did in December in South Seattle.
If you feel safe documenting what you see, here are WAISN’s instructions:
1) Call the hotline to report that you are about to verify activity.
2) Start video documenting (Not Facebook Live)
3) Approach activity by expressing your right to record and inform them that they are being recorded.
4) Ask what agency are they from.
5) Ask who are they looking for.
6) Ask if they have a warrant.
7) Ask for their name and badges.
8. If no warrant, ask them to leave your community.
Reminder: You have the right to privacy so ICE cannot take your camera. You are allowed to record in public places and where you are usually welcome to. If you do take pictures or record any activity email it to WAISN at email@example.com with a location, date and time.
ICE officers may not always be in uniform but may be in plain clothes, according to the City of Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs.
Padilla says WAISN hotline volunteers answer most calls and return those they miss within 24 hours. The group provides updates on large ICE raids or other activity. If you want to sign up for those alerts, text “join” to 253-201-2833. The group also offers “rapid response” training for people who want to learn how to mount a neighborhood response when ICE officers are in their part of town. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more about that.
“As individuals, the whole system is working against us,” Padilla says, “but when it’s a community our rights become something much more effective.”
As for rumors this past weekend of ICE activity, Padilla says the hotline received no reports. A Sound Transit spokesperson says there was “no Homeland Security activity of any kind” in light rail stations over the weekend.
Other immigration advocates contacted by The Stranger also had not received verified reports of ICE on light rail. (That’s not to say ICE isn’t present in Washington state. The WAISN hotline has received a handful of reports of ICE detentions in the last week, including the Columbia City Ale House employee.)
DHS did not return a request for information. ICE directed inquiries to U.S. Customs and Border Protection
, which did not immediately respond. A CBP spokesperson says CBP officers were not at Seattle light rail stations. CBP officers are occasionally present at King Street Station to process passengers on the Rocky Mountaineer train, which crosses into Canada, the spokesperson said. King Street Station services Amtrak and Sounder but not Link Light Rail.
As rumors circulated Saturday, WAISN issued a notice online stating that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security “conducts routine ‘anti-terrorist’ activity in light rail stations & bus stops” and urging people to “be cautious but don’t get alarmed.” These activities can sometimes include ICE officers, but are not for the purpose of enforcing immigration laws, Padilla says.
Sound Transit spokesperson Kimberly Reason said DHS “has periodically patrolled our systems, trains, and stations since Link opened in 2009 as part of our overall security measures.” But according to Sound Transit security, “there was no Homeland Security activity of any kind over the weekend” and “no enforcement activity by any agency (Sound Transit, King County Sheriff, Seattle Police or any entity of Department of Homeland Security) on the platform/station at Columbia City as reported,” Reason said.
Last Monday, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Air Marshals were present on Sound Transit property to “familiarize themselves with our system” for anti-terrorism purposes, Reason said.
While Sound Transit says DHS wasn’t present on light rail over the weekend, the agency has no say in federal law enforcement activities. That dynamic exposes the limits of Seattle’s status as a “sanctuary city.”
The designation does not stop immigrants from facing deportation nor does it stop federal officials like ICE agents from arresting people in the city.
ICE is not required to inform Sound Transit when it conducts any activity on or near light rail and Sound Transit cannot prevent ICE from being on or near light rail, Reason said.
Sound Transit urges riders to report ICE sightings to the transit agency. To do that, call or text 206-398-5268 with the time, day, station or train, and photo or video.