Syracuse, N.Y. — Trucks rumbled overhead on Interstate 81, and Greyhound buses rolled by, as more than 30 people protested the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol’s racist profiling, harassment and detention at the Regional Transportation Center in Syracuse on July 8. Members and allies of the Workers’ Center of Central New York and the Syracuse Rapid Response Team shouted, “Border Patrol off buses and trains! ¡Amtrak, escucha! ¡Estamos en la lucha!” (“Amtrak, listen! We are in the struggle!”)
For the last 10 years, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, in conjunction with ICE, has hounded people of color passing through the RTC, demanding identification, at times detaining them illegally for hours, and, as happened recently, arresting people and dragging them off their bus or train.
In a pre-action statement, the protesting groups expressed outrage that U.S. police agencies use the RTC “as a place to profile and detain our immigrant neighbors as they attempt to see their families and earn their living.” The statement linked the detentions to U.S. wars, saying: “The current administration … is also operating the ‘travel ban’ which targets Muslims who are twice terrorized by this brutal policy. The first time … civilians in countries largely populated by Muslims are victimized by U.S. bombs.”
Because Syracuse is within 100 miles of the Canadian border, U.S. law allows the Border Patrol to treat the city (and any others within that radius) as the functional equivalent of an international border. That means people traveling within the U.S. interior can be policed as if they are at the country’s border crossing.
That this policing is racist in execution is without doubt. As far back as 2008, Tomás, a Latinx traveller to Syracuse by Greyhound, witnessed what happened when the Border Patrol boarded his bus. In a Colorlines interview, he noted: “The Border Patrol agents questioned all the Hispanic, Middle Eastern and Asian passengers. They did not question any of the white passengers except some women who were wearing veils. Border Patrol had dogs with them and checked the whole bus. They even looked in the bathroom.” (June 12, 2008)
The RTC is not just a Central New York hub for Amtrak train and Greyhound, Trailways, Megabus and local Centro bus service. Because it links east-west routes from Boston to the Midwest, and north-south routes from New York to Canada, it is a crucial waystation.
Because of its location, Syracuse was the “great central depot” of the Underground Railroad in New York state in the 19th century, when thousands of people of African descent, seeking freedom from enslavement, journeyed north through the city on foot and by road, canal and railroad.
In this tradition, the Syracuse Rapid Response Team, part of the CNY Solidarity Coalition, said in its rally statement that it was protesting now “to demonstrate our determination to protect our neighbors and to put the government on notice.”