Probation officials in California’s Yolo County said they have moved immigrant minors from Long Island out of the high-security facility where they were in detention, citing insufficient evidence of accusations of MS-13 gang affiliation, according to a published report.
The development, reported by The Sacramento Bee, follows complaints from immigrants, their attorneys and advocates on Long Island about immigrant teenagers being wrongly accused of gang involvement and targeted for deportation as part of a joint operation involving the Suffolk County Police Department and the Homeland Security Investigations arm of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Officials with those agencies have touted a crackdown on the MS-13 gang, which has been linked to brutal assaults and killings in Suffolk County in recent years.
Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini, in an interview Tuesday, stood by the department’s work.
“Anyone that we are detaining as MS-13 is MS-13 and certainly presents a danger to the community,” Sini said. “I understand we are being very aggressive and there are going to be some civil rights groups who are going to complain, but I have a job to do . . . Short of a criminal charge, it is better to remove these people from Suffolk County than do nothing.”
More than 70 individuals with gang connections have been targeted for deportation over the last several months, he said.
In a related development, Bay Shore-based immigration attorney Bryan Johnson said Tuesday that one of his clients — a 17-year-old from Brentwood — also was transferred out of a California detention facility. That transfer occurred after a program director in California noted that an evaluation of the minor showed he is well-behaved and pointed to lack of evidence linking him to a gang, the lawyer said.
Johnson provided an Aug. 4 email from BCFS Health and Human Services, a contractor managing a detention facility in Fairfield, California, which stated that his client “does not show any evidence of being associated or part of any gang or other similar criminal organization.” Johnson did not identify the teen.
An assigned clinician quoted in that correspondence wrote that the teenager “has demonstrated proper attitude and behavior” and “has not made any reference to gangs, including signs, singing about gangs, or glorifying the gang life.”
Johnson’s client is among three immigrant teens from Brentwood who anchor a class-action lawsuit that the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California filed this month, arguing the minors were being held on unfounded allegations of gang involvement in violation of their rights.
In the newly published report, officials with the Yolo County Juvenile Detention Facility in Woodland, California, told The Sacramento Bee that their agency could not verify the gang allegations for at least seven immigrant teens from New York, described as “undocumented,” and that those minors would be transferred to less restrictive settings.
Officials at the Yolo County detention facility did not return calls Tuesday.
The facility is described as a temporary stop “for minors who have been charged with a violation of the law or who have violated conditions of probation.”
ICE did not comment. BCFS Health and Human Services referred questions on their detainees to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the federal agency that has custody of detained minors.
A spokeswoman for the Administration for Children and Families, which oversees the resettlement office, said the agency does not comment on specific cases. She referred to an agency document that says the resettlement office’s policies look to place children and youths in its custody “in the least restrictive setting appropriate for the child’s needs” but it also has secure care facilities for any minor “who poses a danger to self or others or has been charged with having committed a criminal offense.”
Julia Harumi Mass, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, said Yolo County’s decision backs their case.
“These concessions . . . confirm the allegations of the ACLU’s lawsuit — the federal government is arresting and transferring youth far from their families, attorneys and ongoing legal proceedings based on flimsy and unsubstantiated allegations of gang involvement,” she said in a statement. “These officials repeatedly took it upon themselves to reach out to local law enforcement who made the gang accusations and found that the allegations used to justify holding children in the most restrictive setting available in the United States were based on ‘insufficient’ grounds.”
Johnson said his case, as well as those of other immigrant teens held on little proof of gang activity, show something is wrong with the approach of local officials and immigration enforcement.
“For a lot of these kids, the government hasn’t provided any evidence of gang affiliation — and that’s the inherent problem,” Johnson said. “They are shooting off their hips and, first of all, it deprives individuals of their rights under the U.S. Constitution and, second of all, it’s ineffective.”
Three teenagers who were suspended from Bellport High School earlier this year over allegations of gang involvement also had told Newsday that they were falsely accused because they wore clothing with Chicago Bulls insignia or were said to be flashing hand signs associated with the gang. One of the three was later apprehended and detained at a federal detention facility in Virginia.