BART's board of directors on Thursday passed a measure that forbids agency employees and officers from questioning riders about their citizenship status or independently enforcing immigration laws.
But the BART leadership was quick to say it's not a sanctuary policy. That idea worried the board members because the Trump administration has threatened to withhold federal funding from agencies designated them self as sanctuaries.
BART hopes what's being dubbed a "safe transit policy" will allow them to protect their funding and their riders, even as it vows not to actively help federal immigration authorities enforce new immigration policies, as sanctuary organizations are doing.
"Basically, what we said today is that we're not ICE; we're BART," Director Lateefah Simon said.
Simon co-authoured the policy, which says BART will help enforce immigration laws when it is ordered to by a court or compelled by federal law.
"This isn't political," Simon said. "It's about a basic function of our BART system and our police to worry about matters at hand."
On Thursday, a few critics spoke out against the policy shift, saying it does nothing more than make a promise to immigrants that BART can't keep.
"Sure it would give them a sense of peace," rider Sidney Gamble said. "But I would argue that it's a false sense of peace."
"It's just virtual signalling for people who want to feel good about themselves because they supported the undocumented immigrants," David Hein added.
But numerous supporters, including riders groups, unions and migrant service providers praised BART’s decision.
"BART needs to be a safe space where individuals don't have to worry about facing deportation based just on using public transportation," said Raha Jorjani, an Alameda County immigration attorney.
Malena Mayorga, of Mujeres Unidas Activas, said without the policy, "people would be afraid to ride public transit. I hear about this very, very frequently from people who are afraid to ride BART because of this very situation."
Only one BART director voted against the "safe transit" policy, questioning whether it actually changes what BART is already doing.