Activists Alert that NYPD and ‘La Migra’ Share Data on Alleged Gang Members

Activists denounce illegal NYPD surveillance. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

On Wednesday, activists, college professors and legal organizations complained that the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may be sharing databases as part of their anti-gang actions with the purpose of targeting minority youths and surveilling neighborhoods where poor and undocumented people live.

According to advocates working with the Legal Aid Society, law enforcement agencies are applying “criminalization by association” against individuals who are not affiliated with gangs. Attorney Anthony Posada explained that the authorities are not notifying citizens of the fact that they are in the database, preventing them from impugning their classification as active members of a gang.

Attorney Anthony Posada (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

“Adults and youths may be easily linked to a gang due to their urban clothing style, for wearing a color that has been associated with a specific group, for a tattoo or for wearing sneakers that match the description of certain gang members,” said Posada. “These people’s area of residence and appearance – not having committed a crime – is the basis for adding these people to the databases.”

Posada warned that the databases include individuals as young as 12.

Activists fear that the police and “la migra” are sharing this information. “If they are, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s promise of a sanctuary city is not being fulfilled,” he said.

City Hall spokesman Seth Stein said that “the NYPD scans several [sources of] data, including possible affiliation with gangs, as a component of the precision surveillance methods used to combat crime in the few areas in New York where [gang activity] still exists.”

“This information is extremely restricted, and the database is not shared with the federal government or used as criteria for when the NYPD cooperates with ICE’s detainer requests. The NYPD will never act as an arm applying immigration laws,” said Stein.

For their part, the NYPD said that its database has one of the most rigorous lists of criteria in the nation to identify gang members, and that the information is revised and updated periodically.

Arrested with no criminal record

The attorney offered the example of the arrest of four alleged members of the Mexican gang Los Niños Malos – “The Bad Boys” – in front of the Brooklyn Criminal Court last month. Three of the four men accused have no criminal record.

Sergio Pérez, Juan Villa, Fredy Rosas and Eduardo Romero, all Mexican, were arrested in July in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, for trespassing, a minor offense. Only Romero had a previous arrest for a previous offense, for which he did community service.

“The police and immigration authorities are registering youths and adults who have committed minor violations as gang members,” said Posada, stressing that the aggressive anti-gang policy that the police and ICE are carrying out may be a sequel of the controversial stop-and-frisk program, which focused on detaining African-American and Latino men.

Activists denounce illegal surveillance by the NYPD. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

ICE said that the four men admitted to being or having been affiliated to gang members. However, Andrea Sáenz, from Brooklyn Defender Services, warned that charges of gang affiliation tend to be “too inaccurate and unverifiable.”

“A young man may be registered as a gang member for having a friend on social media who does belong to a gang. The situation we see here is too serious,” said Sáenz.

Advocates demand transparency

Advocates explained that, despite the existence of other programs and statistics by the police, these databases are secret and are not subjected to the legal provisions stipulated by the Fourth Amendment. Legal organizations are asking to have access to the information.

“We know that former gang members, who have served time for their crimes and have been rehabilitated, are registered in the databases. It is absurd and very dangerous, particularly for undocumented families,” said Vidal Guzmán, a former gang member.

Vidal Guzmán (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

The federal authorities have warned that operations against gangs will not stop. “Transnational gangs, such as the MS-13, only bring violence and conflict to our communities, and their presence will not be tolerated. Their vicious criminal activities represent a constant challenge to law enforcement everywhere,” said Peter Fitzhugh, the special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in New York. “The efforts to dismantle these gangs piece by piece and improve the safety of our communities will continue.”

Khaalid H. Walls, spokesman for ICE in New York, said that the HSI takes classification of gang membership and affiliation very seriously.

“Individuals are confirmed as gang members if they admit to being members of a gang, if they have been convicted of violating Title 18 U.S.C. 521 or any other federal or state law criminalizing or imposing civilian consequences for gang-related activities, or if they fulfill other criteria such as having tattoos identifying a specific gang or if they are identified as gang members by a reliable source,” concluded Walls.

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One Comment

  1. Jaime Gonzalez says:

    Pueden publicar este articulo en Español por favor?
    Muchas gracias

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