Federal agents arrested 24 immigrants Thursday across Long Island, New York City and the Hudson Valley as part of a sustained offensive to deport those linked to violent street gangs over the past several years, the immigration enforcement agency said.
The arrests lead to detention and deportation proceedings for all those arrested and federal prosecution in some cases.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not provide a list of how many came from Nassau and Suffolk counties, but agents were seen in Central Islip, Hempstead and Brentwood overnight Wednesday and on Thursday morning.
It was part of a larger initiative known as Operation Matador, which has netted 475 arrests since it was launched last year, the agency said. Of that total, 472 arrests were made in New York.
The enforcement push came after a rash of crimes in recent years connected to the MS-13 gang on Long Island — including the killings of Nisa Mickens, 15, and Kayla Cuevas, 16, both of Brentwood, who were brutally slain by alleged gang members in September 2016.
“Operation Matador sends a clear message to violent street gangs that there are consequences for their actions,” ICE Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan said in a statement. “Since this operation began last year, we have seen a decrease in the amount of violent crime directly related to MS-13 and other transnational gangs.”
Over the course of the operation, federal agents have apprehended suspects in Brentwood, Central Islip, Freeport, Hempstead, Roosevelt and Shirley, among other communities, an ICE official said.
The operation resulted from the establishment of a law enforcement task force set up last year and launched in the summer to identify, detain and remove from the country immigrants connected to the MS-13 and other criminal street gangs.
Long Island has been at the center of the enforcement effort under Homeland Security Investigations, an investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that pursues cases of immigrants wanted by ICE.
Of the total in Operation Matador, 210 have been apprehended in Nassau County and 177 in Suffolk County since last year. Also, 36 detainees have been arrested in Queens, 12 in Brooklyn, 18 in the Bronx, 19 in upstate Spring Valley and three in other states, ICE said.
In launching the initiative, the agency’s leadership stressed its commitment to long-term investigations to, first, identify gang members who could be prosecuted for a range of criminal violations at the state and federal levels and to then detain and send back to their homelands those who may not face criminal charges but have been ordered deported or are living illegally in the United States.
As the body count from gang violence grew, Suffolk police and the federal government — including President Donald Trump and the U.S. Department of Justice — vowed to exterminate MS-13, focusing their efforts on Long Island. The federal immigration enforcement initiative is part of that larger crackdown.
The initiative has had support from the Suffolk, Nassau and Hempstead police departments, ICE said.
“I would like to congratulate all of the associated agencies and their investigators on their dedication and relentless pursuit to ensure that all of our residents and communities are safe from the violence that these gangs promote,” Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said in a statement. “The arrests should send a strong message to all gangs that we will not tolerate their unlawfulness and intimidation.”
Ryder promised continued collaboration with the federal operation.
The push has drawn criticism from immigrant advocacy groups, civil rights advocates and affected residents who say immigrant teens have been falsely labeled, arrested and detained on allegations of gang involvement.
Some of the arrests and detentions in Brentwood led to the August filing of a class-action lawsuit against federal agencies. That case is pending.
In November, a federal judge in California ordered the federal government to present evidence bolstering those detentions or to release the detainees to their families.
ICE said Thursday that 65 of the 475 arrested so far have been ordered released; four of them were rearrested for undisclosed criminal charges.
Walter Barrientos, Long Island organizer for the immigrant-advocacy group Make The Road New York in Brentwood, said the latest enforcement actions are troubling.
“The administration continues with this all-out assault on immigrant communities,” Barrientos said. “People are being handed over to federal authorities, many times over unfounded allegations, from which there is no turning around, because many of these people end up deported.”