Phoenix Man Awaiting Deportation After Failing to Buy a Light-Rail Ticket

Anyone who regularly rides Valley Metro can tell you that there's been an increased police presence on the light rail in recent months.

And in one case that we know of, the crackdown lead to an undocumented immigrant being taken into custody by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

On August 11, 52-year-old Ramon Casteneda Andrade was arrested by Phoenix police for failing to pay his light-rail fare, court records show.

"Officer Minton, with the PPD, suspected Casteneda Andrade to be illegally present in the United States and contacted the Phoenix ICE Law Enforcement Agency Response Unit for assistance," the criminal complaint says. "ICE Officer J. Leon telephonically determined Casteneda Andrade to be a citizen of Mexico, illegally present in the United States."

Castaneda Andrade was delivered to the ICE office in Phoenix the next day and charged with illegal re-entry. He was deemed a flight risk and is currently being held in detention while he awaits trial.

Though the Phoenix Police Department recently rewrote its policies to explicitly state that officers can't ask victims or witnesses of crimes about their immigration status, that doesn't apply to people who are suspected of committing a crime.


"State law requires police to verify the immigration status of anyone arrested for a crime," Phoenix Police Department spokesman Jonathan Howard wrote in an email to Phoenix New Times. "State law also requires police to verify the immigration status of anyone lawfully detained for a suspected crime when reasonable suspicion exists to believe the suspect is unlawfully present in the country."

Also, he added: "State law does not differentiate the crimes that require suspect immigration verification."

In other words, it doesn't matter whether you murdered somebody, or simply forgot to buy a light rail ticket.

Castenada Andrade's attorney didn't respond to a request for comment, so we don't know a lot about the circumstances that led to his arrest. Was he unable to afford a light-rail ticket? Did simply decide — like many light-rail riders do — to take his chances and not to bother with the fare machines?

What we do know from court records is that he'd been deported once before. In 1999, when he was 35, Phoenix police arrested Castenada Andrade and charged him with attempted possession of narcotic drugs. Since it was his first conviction, the judge gave him 12 months' probation instead of ordering jail time. Three days after the sentencing hearing, ICE picked him up and drove him down to the border, then dropped him off in Nogales.

Though more than a decade old, Casteneda Andrade's previous felony charges virtually guarantee that he'll get deported again as a result of this more recent arrest.

It's a perfect illustration of what groups like Puente, the Center for Neighborhood Leadership, and Justice That Works have been saying: To prevent deportations, you have to reduce the likelihood that undocumented immigrants come into contact with law enforcement in the first place.

Just look at a similar incident that took place earlier this year in Minneapolis — where, incidentally, police officers aren't supposed to ask about an individual's immigration status unless it's relevant to a crime.

In May, Ariel Vences-Lopez, a 23-year-old undocumented immigrant from Mexico, was arrested for fare evasion on Metro Transit, the light-rail system serving Minneapolis and St. Paul. When he ignored orders to sit down, an officer shocked him with a Taser.

A passenger began filming, and captured the transit cop asking Vences-Lopez, "Are you here illegally?"


After the video

went viral

, Metro Transit's police chief apologized and the officer resigned.

The charges against Vences-Lopez were dropped

.

But by that point, ICE had already issued him a final order of removal. As of mid-July, his lawyers were still fighting to prevent him from being deported.

His arrest, Think Progress wrote, "goes to the heart of why immigrants are afraid of public spaces: A mundane trip to work could not only literally stun you, but also put you into deportation proceedings."

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