Is this what immigration enforcement looks like? A dozen workers waiting on the side of the road to be hauled off to who-knows-where, while police crack jokes at their expense?

Earlier this year, a Maine State Police trooper pulled over a van alongside Interstate 295. Suspecting the occupants were in the country illegally, the trooper called U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, then waited along with another trooper for ICE to arrive. In the end, the driver and one of the passengers were arrested, and it appears some of the other passengers were detained by federal agents. The stop took about two hours.

The case made news this week because the arrested passenger, Mario Ernesto Garcia-Zavala, a Honduras citizen, faces federal immigration charges, and his attorney is arguing that it was racial profiling, not a cracked windshield, that led the trooper to pull over the van, and that the trooper overstepped his bounds by detaining the passengers and asking for identification.

That issue will be settled by the court.

But there is enough in the case, and in the trooper’s dash-camera footage of the stop, to raise questions about state and local law enforcement’s role in policing immigration violations. It shows what can happen when you turn police into a de facto deportation squad, particularly at a time of rising anti-immigrant sentiment, and when undocumented workers have few other options.

It’s a story not unlike those occurring across the country as the Trump administration ramps up enforcement of immigration laws, going beyond just those with violent criminal records, as was the policy toward the end of the Obama administration.

The change has emboldened ICE, border patrol and some state and local departments to conduct raids and detain immigrants who previously were ignored because of their clean records, time in the country, and contribution to the economy. At the same time, other departments have decried the shift, saying it makes it more difficult for them to support public safety in immigrant-heavy areas.

In Garcia-Zavala’s case, the trooper said he pulled over the van after noticing a cracked windshield and a passenger not wearing a seat belt. However, his attention quickly turned to the immigration status of those inside, workers for an unidentified industrial site in South Portland. When they could not speak English or produce identification — which, except for the driver, is not a crime — he called ICE, practically giddy.

“This is the (expletive) ICE motha load right here,” he said, as recorded by his dash camera. “ICE is gonna be coming out here with their (expletive) SWAT team on this one.”

As the immigrants waited in the van, the trooper called them “sketchy” and “disgusting,” and made fun of their inability to speak English.

As he waited for ICE to arrive, he told another trooper, “When they show up — there’s no paperwork. It’s like they’re (expletive) kidnapping people. Have you ever seen it?” It wasn’t the first time — “I’m in the same spot we were in last time, just so you know, OK?” he told an ICE agent.

When two attorneys stopped by the scene to check on the immigrants, the troopers warned them not to get involved. One of the troopers said he was close to arresting one of the attorneys.

Is that what we want?

These were workers, not criminals, presumably valued by their employer. They are thousands of miles from home because this is where opportunity is, and because the United States for decades has welcomed the contributions of undocumented workers but not provided a reasonable path to citizenship. Now, after a sudden shift in policy by a scape-goating president, their lives can change forever because of a traffic stop, whisked away by federal agents and given few rights.

Immigration policy has been broken for years. Now, it is increasingly inhumane too.


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