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March 20, 2019

Lawsuit Filed Against ICE for Not Disclosing Collaboration with Union Pacific Police

LOS ANGELES — The Union Pacific Railroad Police can trace its history back to the mid-1800s when a security force was created to patrol the nation’s emerging railroad network.

But the modern Union Pacific Railroad Police has taken on a new role that has nothing to do with the safety of the railways. Its police officers have formed a shadowy alliance with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop, arrest, and detain individuals who are then transferred to ICE facilities for deportation.

These railroad police officer actions — often rooted in racial profiling in violation of constitutional rights — separate families, harm communities, and prey upon people who are homeless. In many cases the individuals arrested by the officers are held beyond the time they otherwise would have been released just so they could be picked up by ICE — a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Today, a broad coalition of community and civil rights organizations issued a letter to the Union Pacific Railroad Police to demand it end its collaboration with ICE. The letter points out that the collaboration causes the exact harm in communities that the California Values Act, which keeps local law enforcement from being recruited by the Trump administration, was enacted to prevent.

The coalition includes the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California, Black Butte Center for Railroad Culture, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, Palestinian Youth Movement, and El Centro Cultural de Mexico.

"Union Pacific is in the business of transporting goods and persons safely from place to place. It should not be in the business of subjecting the most vulnerable members of our communities to intimidating interrogations, unlawful detentions, and the threat of deportation," said Sameer Ahmed, ACLU SoCal staff attorney.

The relationship between the railroad police and ICE officials has been shrouded in secrecy. So, also today, the ACLU SoCal filed suit against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security for not fulfilling a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, originally filed in September 2018, seeking information on the collaboration.

The suit was filed on behalf of the Immigrant Defenders Law Center, the Western State College of Law Immigration Clinic, Public Counsel, and the Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project.

"The public has a right to know more about ICE and the Union Pacific Railroad Police's efforts to collude to increase deportations and immigration detention, which harm immigrant communities and undermine public safety," said Jennifer Lee Koh, professor of law and director of the Western State College of Law Immigration Clinic.

Both the letter and lawsuit detail several instances of the Union Pacific Railroad Police collaborating with ICE.

Examples include:

  • January 2018: A man riding his bicycle home from work along the San Gabriel River Trail in El Monte was stopped by an armed Union Pacific Railroad Police officer and asked if he had "papeles" (papers, in Spanish) to work in the U.S. The man was held there under a railroad bridge for about two hours until he could be picked up by ICE officers.
  • February 2018: A woman who was homeless was riding her bike in the Van Nuys area outside of Union Pacific Railroad property when she was stopped by an armed railroad police officer. She was held for about two hours until ICE officers arrived and took her into custody. During that time she was never read her rights under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Other incidents detailed in the documents occurred in Santa Ana, North Hollywood, Pacoima, and Whittier.

Read the demand letter here:

Read the FOIA lawsuit here: