An amateur on-scene video has raced around the web showing a Customs and Border Patrol agent approach each person on line at an upstate bus station.
He asks them, one by one, if they are citizens. When the response seems to be yes, he moves on.
He paces in the green uniform, weapon visible on his belt. He’s beefy. His manner seems polite and professional.
We don’t hear the exact words but they cause one woman to open her bag, search it and display something. He nods, appears to thank her, moves on. A tall guy at the back of the line chats with him and they part at ease, laughing.
Then the border cop makes his way to the woman taking the video.
“How are you doing today,” he says.
“Good. How are you,” she says.
“Are you a citizen of the United States?”
“I don’t have to answer that.”
“Have a nice day,” he says quickly, and moves on to the next person.
On her Twitter account, Cynthia Nixon, who is challenging Andrew M. Cuomo to be the Democratic candidate for governor, posted the video, filmed at a Syracuse bus station.
Nixon says the agent is “intimidating people as they get on their buses and trains.” That’s her interpretation, shared by some of those who follow her on Twitter.
This kind of federal questioning has gone on, more or less, for years in places within 100 miles of the Canadian border.
As civil liberties advocates warned 10 years ago after such practices drew news media attention, permanent residents are required to keep their resident alien identification card, or green card, with them at all times.
But because President Donald Trump rails so much against illegal immigration, warning of the danger of invasion, this kind of video now spreads quickly. Anti-Trumpers post them to suggest government intrusion.
President Barack Obama’s administration carried out millions of deportations. But the issue now becomes more visceral on both sides, aided by viral video, as in the matter of police shootings.
The web alerts us to arrests on Greyhound buses, searches on Amtrak trains, protests on streets.
But the images can’t tell us what to think of them.
On Long Island, deportations will be popular when carried out against MS-13 killers.
Not so when the wrong person is arrested — or residences or farms searched without warrants, as was alleged recently in a Rome, N.Y., case.
Cuomo, in a letter to ICE, accused the agency of illegally raiding the Rome dairy farm. ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan called Cuomo’s statements “inaccurate and an insult,” insisting the raid on John Collins’ farm was justified and legal.
Cuomo threatened to sue. Collins said he was kept from recording it. The dispute may be decided in court — which does nothing to resolve the liberty-versus-security tension underlying it.