The Office of Refugee Resettlement may be contradicting its own mission by pointing ICE towards undocumented, unaccompanied youth.
The New York Civil Liberties Union is suing a federal agency for withholding information on a government-sponsored grant program intended to “find, arrest, detain, and deport unaccompanied children.”
CBS News reports that the complaint accuses the Office of Refugee Resettlement, or ORR, of funneling intelligence to local police departments. While the ORR isn’t a law enforcement organization, it’s allegedly taking a proactive role in rounding up underage, undocumented youth.
Somewhat unexpectedly, the ORR funds and oversees child care programs for thousands of unaccompanied minors across the country. But instead of taking its obligations literally, the Office of Refugee Resettlement may have participated in a federal grant program that encourages cooperation between local cops and the ORR.
Under the program’s purview, police collaborate with the ORR to find out the names of unaccompanied minors. Law enforcement then tells federal authorities whether any youth may be designated “gang associates” and thus eligible for easy deportation.
In their lawsuit, the New York Civil Liberties Union says it filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the ORR pertaining to the program and whatever records the office may have on its operation. However, the ORR never responded.
CBS says the grant’s entitled “Gang Suppression: A Law Enforcement and Prosecutorial Approach to Address Gang Recruitment of Unaccompanied Alien Children.” Since its inception, the grant has provided nearly $5 million to local police departments in four countries across the country. NYCLU attorneys say the program explicitly encourages cops to develop strategies against undocumented youth.
Worryingly, the grant is part of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s “Operation Matador.” The NYCLU claims that Matador “allows federal immigration agents, in coordination with local law enforcement partners, to designate any immigrant child a ‘gang associate’ based on as few as two indeterminate criteria, such as frequenting a known ‘gang hideout,’ which cold be any location, or wearing ‘gang colors,’ like ‘blue.’”
NYCLU attorneys claim that, through December 2018, ICE agents detained more than 170 undocumented children—often on pretexts as trivial as “possessing drawings of their high school mascot or the area code for their home country, both of which ICE characterized as ‘gang paraphernalia.’”
NYCLU staff attorney Anthony Gemmell said his organization wants to know more about the ORR’s priorities, given the apparent conflict of interest between the office’s mission and its cooperation with ICE.
“The public deserves to know more about ORR’s role in Operation Matador,” Gemmell said. “Resources designated for providing basic care to undocumented children are instead being used to target immigrant youth and families, many of whom fled their home countries to escape violence and persecution.”
Newsday.com adds that, while ICE insists the children it’s detained are “confirmed” gang-bangers, anonymous or otherwise unspecified jail officials claim they’ve been shown insufficient evidence to warrant arrest, detention or deportation.