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U.S. government frees LI immigrant teen after 7 months

The 17-year-old boy from El Salvador went home to his family last week. He had been detained in July by Immigration and Customs Enforcement over suspected gang involvement, allegations the teen denied.

An immigrant teen from Long Island, who is among the chief plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the federal government and its contracted shelter, was released after more than seven months in custody, said the advocacy organization representing him.

The 17-year-old boy, identified only as L.V.M. in court filings, is a Salvadoran who was living in Bellport until July, when agents for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement placed him in detention, pending possible deportation.

The class action suit, filed Feb. 16 by the New York Civil Liberties Union, seeks to end “the government’s prolonged detention of immigrant children across New York State” for minors who have been placed under heightened supervision. He was released Thursday after several news reports on the case.

“We’re thrilled to see L.V.M. reunited with his mom,” Paige Austin, staff attorney with the NYCLU, said in a statement. “Their family is so happy to be together again, after over half a year of waiting for a response to his mother’s request for his release.” The Office of Refugee Resettlement, responsible for the custody of immigrant minors, “had no reason to keep this child in its custody and separated from his family for months on end.”

The suit, Austin added, will go on “and we will continue to fight to ensure that other children caught up in the Trump deportation dragnet get the due process and the prompt reunification with family that they deserve.”

The federal government has not filed a response to the suit. A spokeswoman for the government agencies declined to comment Tuesday on the pending litigation.

The legal complaint targets officials with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement and its overseeing agencies, the Administration for Children and Families and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It also names The Children’s Village, a nonprofit contracted to keep custody of those children in Dobbs Ferry, Westchester County.

L.V.M. was among several students at Bellport High School in the South Country school district who had been suspended over suspected gang involvement, but he denied the allegations. He told Newsday last summer he was falsely accused of throwing gang signs after making an obscene gesture at another student.

His mother, Edith Esmeralda Mejia de Galindo, a plaintiff, said the family “is happy” to have him back.

“I pray to God,” Mejia de Galindo said in Spanish, “that we have a good outcome and that this case helps other children as it has helped mine.”

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