Zera Samson, center, is detained by several law enforcement officers at the bus station on the corner of Bates and Oak streets in Lewiston on Friday. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal)
LEWISTON — A woman from Tanzania was detained at the Greyhound bus stop on Bates Street for about 45 minutes Friday while Lewiston police and an agent from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement tried to verify her name and immigration status before issuing a verbal trespass warning.
“In today’s day and age, obviously, if people are here illegally we want to be able to just check,” Lewiston Police Lt. David St. Pierre said. “We oftentimes call ICE and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this guy from’ — in this case it was Tanzania, but in other cases it’ll be like, ‘I’ve got a guy from Cuba here who’s saying he’s here legally but he’s been here for two years but he doesn’t have, you know, what appears to be an official document with a photo or anything like that. Could you just verify that he’s not on any type of watch list or anything?’ It’s just standard procedure for any case when they’re not U.S. citizens.”
Zera Samson said she was traveling to the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project’s office in Portland early Friday afternoon when a woman at the bus station yelled at her and called her names. Samson said she yelled back and someone called the police. She said the other woman left.
St. Pierre said the bus station made a complaint about Samson and requested that she be asked to leave and given a warning not to return “because of some rude or threatening or what can be perceived as threatening statements she made while at the bus stop.”
A Lewiston police officer asked for Samson’s identification, St. Pierre said, in order to issue the trespass warning. He said she showed the officer a New Jersey ID but it was not government issued, like a driver’s license or state ID.
He said the officer asked for additional identification and Samson offered a Social Security card that was not hers.
St. Pierre said Samson then produced immigration paperwork. St. Pierre said the paperwork looked OK, but “the piece of paper she had she could have printed out this morning.”
The officer called ICE, St. Pierre said, to see if the federal agency had a record of her. An ICE agent happened to be in the area and stopped by.
After what appeared to be multiple phone calls, the ICE agent asked Samson for her contact information and told her she was free to go, saying, “We did find some stuff for you, a pending application.”
The agent at the scene declined to comment.
St. Pierre said the agent asked Samson to call or see him Monday to straighten out whether she’s supposed to be in the country.
“She’s here on a student visa that may or may not be expired,” St. Pierre said.
Immigration and citizenship checks have garnered a lot of attention lately as the federal government seeks to crack down on undocumented immigrants.
Around the same time, a Concord Coach Lines bus driver in Maine was recorded telling passengers they had to be U.S. citizens to ride the bus, while a Border Patrol agent asked those waiting to board whether they were citizens. Concord soon issued a statement saying passengers do not have to be citizens and that it has clarified that with staff.