Imagine that you’re riding on an Amtrak train from Chicago to New York City in the middle of the night.  Shortly after the train crosses into New York State, several armed Border Patrol agents board the train, roust selected passengers out of their sleep, interrogate them, and cart a number of them off the train at the next stop.  What would you do?

Would you assume that the passengers must have been identified as terrorists or spies and, thus, be relieved that the agents had acted in the interest of your security?
What if you learned that foreign-born students who entered the country legally were being detained, strip-searched, or even transported across the country and ‘dropped off’, because they could not produce proper documents?
According to an article in today’s New York Times, this is going on not too far from Happy Valley, without attracting the kind of national attention that has been paid to Arizona’s recently introduced immigration law
What ethical issues does this expansion of the traditional role of Border Patrol raise? Is the attempt to justify this practice by appeal to the claim that passengers are under no constraint to answer any questions convincing? Do such tactics actually keep us safe?  If we were to assume that they do keep us safe, would that be all that is required to conclude that they are justifiable? What, if anything, do the supplied graphs indicate about the claim that agents are not using racial profiling?  
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3 Responses to If You Saw Fellow Passengers Taken off the Train in the Middle of the Night?

  1. Annie Lynch says:

    I think it’s wrong to bombard these people publicly. My first reaction would be that these people are some threat to us and our government but they should have solid evidence behind that before pulling them off a train and causing a huge scene. If I were put in a situation where my visa had expired without my knowing and I was removed from the train and strip searched, I would be horrified. I think the only reasonable explanation for these people being attacked like that were if they were definite threats to everyone’s security.

  2. Mark Fisher says:

    Thanks for your comment, Holly. Just so others can see it as as clearly as you do, could you say a bit more about the “immigration problem that is getting out of hand”? What are the problems you see resulting from illegal immigration? Of all the actions we could imagine people taking in response to these problems, why is this a particularly good one?

    Maybe I can help you see what some people are likely getting worked up about:

    Imagine you are studying at a university in a foreign country that has an illegal immigration problem. You entered the country legally, but now your visa has expired (for whatever reason). You are on a train to another city, looking to do some work at an affiliated university, when armed agents board the train and start asking questions of passengers, like yourself, who don’t look like the ‘typical’ citizens of that country. When they find out you weren’t born there, and you can’t produce a current visa, is it okay for these agents to remove you from the train and strip search you? Is it okay for them to detain you without allowing you to contact your family or a lawyer, transfer you to a holding area somewhere else in the country while they wait to bring you before a judge, and then drop you off there?

    Even if you were at fault for not having a current visa, wouldn’t you want people to get worked up about your being treated like that?

  3. holly p says:

    personally i dont see what so many people are getting worked up about. our country clearly has an immigration problem that is getting out of hand and this is just a means of trying to control or stop it. this is the kind of raw action our country needs; we have a problem let’s fix it. if you are a legal citizen, have the papers or information to prove it! if you dont have the information to prove your citizenship, then your probably not a citizen. i dont think its particularly kind to send an illegal immigrant back to their country, but at the same time we have legal means for which you can become a citizen. it may seem a little unfair at first but ultimatly it will substantially cut down on the amount of illegal immigrants living in america.

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