The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit accusing the Trump administration for using “unsubstantiated claims of gang affiliation” to detain immigrant teenagers in “jail-like” facilities in California.
The lawsuit charges that US federal authorities — under the guise of a “crackdown” on transnational street gangs — are embarking on a concerted effort to detain and deport children based on unreliable claims of gang affiliation and flawed reports of criminal history, the ACLU said in a press release Friday.
The legal action names as defendants Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).
The juvenile plaintiffs were transported to distant detention facilities without notice to their parents or lawyers and were not afforded a chance to challenge the charges against them, the ACLU said.
“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, attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.
One juvenile plaintiff from Suffolk County, New York was arrested for disorderly conduct on June 9, when walking home from a soccer game and “play-fighting” with a friend, ACLU wrote. The plaintiff was released five days later, and was then rearrested two days later by local police officers who told him that he was being arrested to be turned over to immigration authorities for deportation.
The lawsuit alleges that by re-arresting children who have already been processed and released to sponsors, ICE and ORR are violating a requirement for the government to ensure that an immigrant child is placed under the care of a family member or sponsor in the US or, alternately, in the least restrictive setting possible.
The Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD). which has acknowledged that it uses ICE to detain teens, was investigated by the Department of Justice in 2009 for discriminatory policing against Latino community members.
Earlier this week, Chicago sued the federal government over the Department of Justice’s announcement that it would withhold federal grants to state and city law enforcement agencies unless they allow federal immigration authorities access to local jails, as well as give them 48 hours’ notice before releasing anyone wanted for immigration violations.
On July 25, the top court in Massachusetts struck down ICE’s request that illegal immigrants facing deportation be held for up to 48 hours after their initial cases were resolved, ruling that authorities have no right to hold an immigrant after they have been released for a crime because it would amount to a new arrest of the person, which is not authorized by the laws of Massachusetts, the state’s Supreme Court said.
As ICE arrests under the Trump administration have jumped 40 percent, federal officials maintain they are primarily targeting criminals among illegal immigrants, but many innocent people are reported to be caught in the crosshairs.
A quarter of those ICE took into custody were not criminals, the Department of Homeland Security said in May.