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July 27, 2017

The New York Civil Liberties Union demanded today that the Trump administration stop detaining minors suspected of gang involvement in jail-like conditions without prior investigation. Ahead of reported national immigration raids targeting teens with suspected gang affiliation as well as a visit to Suffolk County tomorrow by President Trump, the NYCLU warned the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in a letter that placing minors in restrictive detention without cause, often thousands of miles away from home, violates their rights.

“No child deserves to have his life upended or be ripped away from family based on flimsy allegations,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Children who in many cases came to America to flee gang violence are being disappeared to face deportation without adequate protections or investigation. We will continue to challenge the recklessness of the Trump deportation machine.”

The NYCLU letter warns that the ORR is failing to conduct its own independent investigations to verify allegations of gang involvement, which are often based on questionable evidence provided by local law enforcement to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Detained children are entitled to the least restrictive conditions, including placement with relatives, unless an ORR investigation determines children pose a threat or they have been charged with a crime. Many children now kept in secure facilities were initially vetted by ORR and placed in the custody of family members. They have lived in the U.S. for months or years and attended school here.

At least nine children have now been placed in restrictive detention as the result of unconfirmed allegations of gang affiliation made by the Suffolk County Police Department. From interviews conducted with unaccompanied minors, the NYCLU has learned that allegations of gang involvement have been leveled based on wearing a black t-shirt to school, playing soccer with suspected gang affiliates or for wearing clothing with the Chicago Bulls logo.

“These practices are forcing children to fear both the gang and the government,” said NYCLU Suffolk County Chapter Director Irma Solis. “We’ve heard from children who are afraid to go to school or go outside their homes because they’re scared they will be picked up by ICE and separated from their loved ones – and all because someone may have misunderstood a t-shirt.”

The only two secure detention facilities in the country are in Virginia and California, so children are kept hundreds or thousands of miles away from their homes in jail-like facilities, where they are locked in cells. Minors and their lawyers are not told why the teens are being placed in these facilities before teens are transported out of New York.

Last week Reuters reported on an ICE memo detailing nationwide raids planned for this week targeting 16- and 17-year olds suspected of affiliation with the MS-13 gang, for which Suffolk County has become a focal point. Tomorrow President Trump will meet with local officials there, including the Suffolk County Police commissioner, to discuss MS-13. The NYCLU letter demands that, should these factors presage further restrictive detention of teens from Suffolk County, the ORR must comply with federal law by independently investigating information it gets from law enforcement, and present evidence so that it could be contested.

The letter is signed by NYCLU Staff Attorney Phil Desgranges, Legal Fellow Kristen Burzynski, Suffolk County Chapter Director Irma Solis and Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn.

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