One of three immigrant teenagers suspended from Bellport High School over disputed allegations of gang involvement was taken by federal agents looking to remove him from the country, according to his lawyer and mother.
The 16-year-old native of El Salvador had returned Thursday afternoon from his job repairing floors when he was apprehended at his Bellport home. His lawyer, Peter Brill, said an agent involved in the arrest identified himself as Homeland Security staff.
The minor and his mother had spoken to Newsday under condition of anonymity, partly because they feared the MS-13 Salvadoran gang, which they said was why they crossed the border illegally into the United States. He denied an allegation of “throwing” gang signs in school, saying he just made an obscene gesture to another boy during an argument.
The teens contended they were wrongly accused by their school of being in MS-13 for flashing signs or wearing Chicago Bulls insignia associated with the gang’s “devil horns” symbol. They were suspended by the South Country school district, which their lawyer said was partly acting on Suffolk police information.
A fourth young man and former student, also represented by Brill, was upset that he had landed alongside those three on a purported Suffolk police list of gang members and associates that the lawyer obtained from an undisclosed source.
Brill, who is appealing the suspensions, had expressed concern that tagging students as gang members could lead to their deportations. He said the 16-year-old was taken to a detention facility in Virginia.
“This is exactly what we feared was going to happen: That if these kids were labeled as MS-13 members, this was the method they were going to use to remove then from the community,” Brill said. “These actions certainly reinforce our belief that there are ongoing civil rights violations.”
The school district did not comment on the latest development but law enforcement agencies defended their work.
A task force led by federal Homeland Security Investigations, under U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, vowed to criminally charge or remove known gang members from the U.S. — following brutal assaults linked to MS-13, including the unresolved killings of four young men found in a Central Islip park. Among the slain were Justin Llivicura, 16, and Jorge Tigre, 18, who had attended Bellport High.
An ICE spokeswoman said she couldn’t comment on a case involving a minor due to privacy rules. She said the agency’s investigations team is continuing its “emphasis in combating the proliferation of MS-13 and other transnational criminal gang activity,” adding that their work “uses reliable information gathered through multiple sources.”
Justin Meyers, Suffolk police assistant commissioner, said the department is careful about who it pursues and leaves deportations to the feds. “The notion or idea that we are targeting individuals who are not associated with this gang for deportation,” he said, “is completely unfounded and untrue.”