In mid-September, as Esther Fernandez Rosario ’23 waited for her train in the Brunswick transportation center, she double checked that she hadn’t forgotten anything in her dorm room. She had her toothbrush, her school work, a birthday card for her mom—she was prepared for a weekend back home in Boston. But she wasn’t prepared to be stopped by a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer.
“It caught me off guard. It was just a very random and awkward experience,” Rosario said. “This officer came up to me out of nowhere and asked me, ‘are you a U.S. citizen?’ I looked at him with a face that said ‘um, yes.’ And then he backed off and said, ‘have a safe trip.’”
Rosario, who is a U.S. citizen, did not see the officer question anyone else at the station. She had been at Bowdoin for less than a month when the incident occurred.
“I am an immigrant. I came to the United States from the Dominican Republic when I was seven. And even when I was seven, just watching the news, I could tell that some people didn’t want people like me here,” said Rosario. “There are people now that don’t want me here.”
Rosario is one of several Brunswick community members who have been stopped by CBP this past month. That same weekend, Dalton Dear ’22 saw CBP agents questioning travelers boarding a bus at the Brunswick transportation station. He said that while saying goodbye to a friend from home who had come to visit, he saw around six CBP officers.
Since Brunswick is less than 100 miles from a U.S. border, in this case the coastline, CBP officers are legally allowed to stop and question people in town. Travelers have the right to remain silent if stopped on the street, regardless of citizenship or immigration status. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) website clarifies that there is only one exception: “for people who do have permission to be in the U.S. for a specific reason and for, usually, a limited amount of time (a ‘nonimmigrant’ on a visa, for example), the law does require you to provide information about your immigration status if asked.”
Michael Niezgoda, a public affairs officer for CBP, told The Times Record that agents lingering at a bus stop, also known as a “hub check,” is “nothing out of the ordinary.” The Brunswick Downtown Association (BDA) manages the transportation center, but the BDA executive director, Debora King, said she has never heard of CBP agents questioning passengers before.
Marcos López, an assistant professor of sociology who teaches courses about immigration in the United States, believes that the increase in CBP activity in Brunswick is reactionary.
“I speculate it’s because of the political showdown around immigration [in Maine] that kind of came to a climax over the summer when [Governor Janet Mills] basically let it be known that she welcomed immigrants into Maine,” López said.
He added that the incidents “create a climate of fear” in the Brunswick community.
“I feel scared. I’m scared for those that are directly affected by this,” Arein Nguyen ’21 said. “[All students] should be able to move wherever they want to.”
Nguyen is Vice President of Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) and co-president of Define American, a group that promotes discussion about immigration policy.
He added that BSG wants to support all students who are concerned about CBP and other “fear mongering federal agencies.”
Professors are also surprised and worried. Some have begun to inform students in their classes about these incidents and ways they can stay informed.
“I think it’s really important to say that this is happening and to take a stand about it, in order to let students, faculty and staff of color know that they have support,” said Doris Santoro, chair of the education department. “We want them here as part of this community and we aren’t happy if they end up feeling targeted.”
Santoro posted information on her classes’ Blackboard pages about Fourth Amendment rights and what to do if you are questioned about your immigration status. She has also requested “know your rights” information cards from the ACLU and plans to put them in public spaces across campus, such as David Saul Smith Union.
Emma Bond, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Maine, said that CBP agents rely heavily on people consenting to questioning that they don’t have to answer.
“[CBP] is the largest law enforcement agency in the country. And we are all less safe when the patrol agents racially profile and target people based on the color of their skin or the language that they speak,” Bond said. “That’s not the kind of society that we want to live in.”
There are various resources on campus for students concerned about CBP activity. Eduardo Pazos Palma, director of the Rachel Lord Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, is the College’s point person on immigration issues. As a confidential resource, he can help students who are undocumented or beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. He works to connect students with Brunswick community members and organizations, such as the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project and the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition.
“If anybody at any point feels like they just want to get more information, I am available for students, staff or faculty to come talk to me with any questions. This is something that we think about and this is something that we take seriously,” Pazos Palma said. “It’s a good thing to be able to find these little coves where you’re able to find some refuge. And hopefully this office, among many others on campus, can be that kind of refuge for students.”
Next week, Pazos Palma is leading a workshop for members of Student Affairs on ways that they can best support students who are undocumented or DACA recipients.
The workshop aims to give administrators the tools to help students like Rosario navigate potential future run-ins with CBP.
“One of the things that drew me to Bowdoin, at least when I came to visit, was how welcoming the Brunswick community was to Bowdoin students,” she said. “I knew I was going to a very white space, but I didn’t expect something like that would happen to me. You have to stay informed, know what resources are available and know your rights.”