Watch Now

Union Pacific says its California police force won’t check immigration status

Civil liberties groups argue railroad engaged in profiling, collaborated occasionally with ICE

Union Pacific will no longer ask for the immigration status of non-UP people it comes across in California. (Photo: UP)

Union Pacific’s (NYSE: UNP) police force will not ask for the immigration status of people it comes across on Union Pacific’s network in California, nor will the railroad work with any joint law enforcement task force whose sole purpose is to identify, detain or deport people who entered the U.S. illegally.

These actions are according to Union Pacific’s (UP) police force order, dated March 2020.

UP’s March order was in the news last week because the Southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently agreed to settle allegations that it refused to turn over documents that alluded to a relationship between ICE and UP. 

Civil liberties groups had filed a Freedom of Information Act request in September 2018 to receive ICE documents about its relationship with UP, according to the ACLU. The groups subsequently sued ICE and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in March 2019. 

The groups argued that on six occasions, UP’s police force detained individuals and then transferred custody of the individuals to ICE. The groups contended that the individuals were targeted because of their race or ethnicity and that their detention violated the Fourth Amendment, according to court filings.

ICE settled with the groups before the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Western Division, on July 26 for $15,000. That settlement dismisses the case against ICE. 

The groups involved in the lawsuit were the Immigrant Defenders Law Center, Western State College of Law Immigration Clinic, Public Counsel and Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project at Catholic Charities.

Meanwhile, as the lawsuit was occurring, the Southern California chapter of the ACLU said that it and other groups had pressed UP in a March 2019 “demand letter”  to address allegations that UP’s railroad police had unconstitutionally stopped, arrested and detained individuals based on their race or ethnicity, and then transferred them to ICE.

“UP’s collaboration with ICE threatened immigrant families and was inconsistent with the California Values Act,” said Jessica Bansal, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. “We are pleased the new policy cuts ties with ICE and will be monitoring closely to ensure the troubling practices revealed by the FOIA litigation do not return.”

ICE told FreightWaves that it doesn’t comment on the specifics of litigation proceedings or outcomes.

Speaking on background on the agency’s immigration policies, an ICE official said it does not request for or expect non-immigration officials to enforce immigration statutes.

Union Pacific’s response

Of last week’s developments, UP said it “remains committed to full observance with all federal, state, and local laws and regulations.  Consistent with this commitment, Union Pacific has policies in place to ensure its interactions with ICE are consistent with both Federal and California law.”

UP’s March order says as a general policy, “personnel who encounter a non-employee on Union Pacific property shall not (a) use suspected immigration status as a factor in determining whether to confront, detain, or arrest the person; (b) ask the person to disclose his or her immigration status; (c) order the person to produce immigration documents; or (d) initiate contact with a federal immigration agency to report the person. UPPD personnel may contact any law enforcement agency at any time to request additional assistance if necessary for officer safety.”

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

Related articles:

CBP finds 48 alleged stowaways in BNSF, UP trains at border

TSA to require freight railroads to provide training addressing terrorist threats

GAO critical of “outdated” inspection practices at U.S. ports by Customs and Border Protection agents

Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.