The American Civil Liberties Union launched a class action lawsuit against the federal government, alleging that immigration officials are rounding up, detaining, and deporting teenagers on bogus ‘gang affiliation’ charges.
Working in conjunction with a coalition of lawyers from California, the litigation charges U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement for jailing adolescents over unsubstantiated claims.
An ACLU press release accuses the two agencies of locking up children and then transporting them to jail-like facilities – without notifying their parents or giving them an opportunity to contact an attorney.
The arrests are purportedly being conducted “under the guise of a ‘crackdown’ on transnational street gangs,” in line with recent Trump administration rhetoric.
Sessions and the commander-in-chief have both taken an increasingly hard line on sanctuary cities, citing violence from the Salvadorian street gang MS-13 as a motivator.
However, the ACLU says ICE is picking kids off the street based on “unreliable claims of gang affiliation and flawed reports of criminal history.”
“We’re talking about teens who were picked up for play-fighting with a friend, or for showing pride in their home country of El Salvador,” said Stephen Kang, an attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “The Office of Refugee Resettlement is accepting wholesale that young immigrants should be kept behind bars because of what they look like or where they come from.”
The lead plaintiffs in the class action come are all from Suffolk County in Long Island, New York.
Just last month, President Trump gave a speech in Suffolk vowing to eradicate MS-13, which was behind the slaying of four young men in a local park.
One of the youths participating in the lawsuit, referred to as J.G. in ACLU press release, said, “The police and immigration agents are arresting kids because they think they look like gang members, but youth are the future of this country and have a lot to offer.”
“Don’t judge people by their appearance,” he said.
Another plaintiff, F.E., said the Suffolk County Police Department began harassing him shortly after Trump’s inauguration, in February of 2017.
Even though F.E. sought permission to visit the station and introduce himself to officers, he was arrested in June while “play-fighting” with a friend – the teenager had been walking home from a soccer match when police detained the boy for disorderly conduct.
He was detained for five days before being released.
Two days after being returned home, Suffolk Police officers took F.E. back into custody, saying he was suspected of having gang ties and was being turned over to immigration officials.
The SCPD has admitted it uses the power of federal agencies like ICE to arrest teenagers Suffolk doesn’t have enough evidence to put in jail.
Among the plaintiffs’ chief complaints is that many were arrested for immigration offenses in the past but were later processed and allowed to return to their parents, a family member, or legal sponsor in the United States.
“This case centers on the denial of fundamental protections that are at the core of our legal system,” said Martin Schenker, a legal partner at Cooley LLP. Cooley is representing the teenagers along with the ACLU. “Children are being denied access to their family and legal counsel and incarcerated in remote locations based on unreliable and unsubstantiated allegations, which amounts to a wholly unacceptable breach of their statutory and constitutional rights.”
The ACLU has launched a slew of lawsuits against the administration since Trump took office in January, many relating to a proposed and highly controversial ‘Muslim ban.’