Police Sued and Parents Alarmed as War on MS-13 Rages

Irma Solís, director of the Suffolk County chapter of the NYCLU. (Photo via Noticia Long Island)

Irma Solís is the director of the Suffolk County chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU). The attorney, an advocate and legal activist for over 15 years, is currently the face of the lawsuit the NYCLU filed against the county’s police department for “failing to answer public records requests regarding its role in the identification, arrest, and detention by federal authorities of immigrant students accused of gang involvement.” [According to the organization], cooperation between local schools, the Suffolk County Police Department and immigration authorities has resulted in information about high school students being shared with the authorities. This comes in the midst of the war declared by the government against the dangerous MS-13 gang, for which Solís says parents need to be prepared.

“The repercussions of the fight against gangs have been seen primarily in schools. Students were being suspended from class and meanwhile, ICE would come to their homes and arrest them,” said Solís, who also mentioned that according to the NYCLU’s inquiries, the schools they have verified that share information with the police and where most arrests have been made are in Brentwood, Amityville, Huntington and Patchogue.

These arrests drove American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) chapters in North Carolina and Virginia to sound the alarm about the large number of youths from Long Island being taken to detention centers in those states – young immigrants who had been allowed into the country between 2013 and 2014 under the category “unaccompanied children.”

In light of this, the ACLU filed a lawsuit to demand a second court hearing with an immigration judge for these youths. “When they entered the country they had an initial hearing, and a judge determined that they were not a danger to the community,” said Solís.

The lawsuit led a federal judge to determine that the constitutional rights of the youths had been violated when they were detained, and he granted a hearing with an immigration judge, where “the ACLU found out that the arrests were based on the information the Suffolk County police and schools had provided,” stressed Solís.

The hearings also allowed 27 youths to be [immediately] released, as the judge determined that there was no proof of any involvement with gangs.

“In August 2017, we submitted a petition to the Suffolk police to show us evidence of the arrests and the collaboration policies with schools. In February of this year, we filed a lawsuit because the police of the county refused to give us the information we requested, which we have a lawful right to know,” said Solís.

For its part, as the investigations related to the lawsuit continue, the Suffolk County Police Department, headed by new Commissioner Geraldine Hart, is refraining from commenting on the matter.

Warning to parents

Solís believes that parents need to be on the alert regarding what happens with their children during this war on MS-13 to prevent them from being wrongly accused or lacking appropriate legal assistance.

“Parents must read and understand their school’s code of conduct. If they do not speak English, the school is required to provide it in Spanish. It is important to know it and to ask the school about anything they do not understand,” said Solís, emphasizing that this includes, for instance, the type of clothing children may or may not be allowed to wear in school.

Another important aspect is that parents must know that the school is legally forbidden from sharing their children’s personal information or school records with anyone, including the police, without first notifying parents, unless there is an emergency and it is necessary in a general sense to share the data of all students.

“The common denominator lawyers have found on most of the arrests that have been carried out on Long Island is that parents were never notified by schools about the fact that the schools would share their children’s information with the police,” she said.

“It is extremely important for parents suspecting that their children may be involved in gang activity or know that their children possess valuable information or are being chased by gangs, to go find help at a legal organization but not in school, as their children’s safety may be at risk,” said Solís.

Finally, she added, it is also important to remember that a police officer does not stop being one when they walk into a school.

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