FOILing ICE for Info on Gang Membership Criteria

(Photo from ICE via Long Island Wins)

Following raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement that have led to the arrest of nearly 40 suspected gang members in Nassau and Suffolk counties, the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) is seeking information from the government about the “Operation Matador” program, which features collaboration between ICE and local law enforcement, reports Jano Tantongco in Long Island Wins.

It’s not clear what criteria have been used to establish gang membership, and there have been concerns that young people who are not in fact gang members have been among those rounded up. NYIC filed requests Monday through the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as well as through New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) with ICE, including their Enforcement and Removal Operations, as well as Homeland Security Investigations; U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS); U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP); Suffolk and Nassau County police departments; and the New York City Police Department (NYPD).

NYIC stated in a press release:

Operation Matador has targeted immigrants on Long Island suspected of being affiliated with the gang MS-13. It uses unknown criteria to define “gang affiliation,” “gang membership,” or “gang associate” and effectively profiles immigrant men of color. For the past few months, the NYIC and the Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative (I-ARC) have worked to gather information from immigration legal service providers on how ICE is carrying out gang enforcement on Long Island. Together, the NYIC and I-ARC have noticed that gang enforcement is often used as a pretext to arrest immigrants or deny applications for benefits, a belief that was confirmed through comments an ICE agent made to CBS News earlier this month.

Lawyers say more information is needed.

“Thus far, no information about the formal policies or criteria that guide the identification of MS-13 members has been disclosed. What we have seen from recent cases is that the youth who face these accusations have had no access to due process,” said Susan Gottehrer, Chapter Director of the Nassau County chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “The impact of these arrests on the community is devastating and creates an extremely dangerous lack of trust between immigrant youth and the police, making it impossible for people to feel safe in their schools and in their homes.”

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