Rumors circulating on social media about immigration checks occurring at CTA stations in Chicago are not true, authorities said Wednesday.
The Chicago Police Department, in conjunction with agents from the Department of Homeland Security, conducted “random bag checks” at the CTA’s Addison Red Line station in the city’s Lake View neighborhood on Tuesday, according to police.
That effort was part of an ongoing security program that has existed since 2014, the CTA said in a statement. Checks like those that occurred Tuesday consist of "quick, randomized swab-tests of bags to detect possible explosive materials," according to a 2014 release from the CTA announcing the program as a new counterterrorism effort, similar to those employed in cities like New York and Washington, D.C.
The screenings happen several times a week at various locations throughout the transit system, according to police and the CTA.
During the checks, officers ask randomly selected individuals if they are willing to have their bag screened before entering the station. If the person declines, they will not be able to proceed to the platform.
If they consent, officers swab the passenger’s bag with a stick capable of detecting explosive material, and if the test comes back clear, the person can proceed. If the results show possible explosive materials, officers ask to further inspect the bag – but the screening itself does not include identification checks, according to the CTA.
These screenings are conducted with agents from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), but are unrelated to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – both of which are part of the Department of Homeland Security.
"At the request of the Chicago Transit Authority, TSA deployed its Visible Intermodal Prevention & Response (VIPR) team to provide additional prevention and response capabilities," a TSA spokesperson said in a statement. "Security operations such as these are conducted throughout the nation in partnership with law enforcement and security authorities in all modes of transportation to include mass transit, rail, air and maritime."
ICE vehemently denied the agency’s involvement, saying "reports of checkpoints and sweeps are false, dangerous and irresponsible."
"ICE does not conduct sweeps, checkpoints or raids that target aliens indiscriminately," a spokesperson for ICE said in a statement. "These reports create panic and put communities and law enforcement personnel in unnecessary danger. Any groups falsely reporting such activities are doing a disservice to those they claim to support."
The CTA took to Facebook and Twitter in an effort to dispel the rumors that were floating around on those social networks, with some posts warning of "mass raids." The CTA posted a graphic in both English and Spanish to clarify the security screenings.
"We want to be very clear that there have been NO incidences of ID checkpoints for purposes of verifying immigration status anywhere on CTA by the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) service (nor any other agency) on our system," the post reads. "We do not participate in or support this type of activity."
"It’s important to us that everyone, no matter who they are, how they identify, or where they’re from feel comfortable and confident riding transit in Chicago: You are welcome here," the statement ends.