Exclusive: U.S. immigration raids to
target teenaged suspected gang members
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[July 22, 2017]
By Julia Edwards Ainsley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. immigration
agents are planning nationwide raids next week to arrest, among others,
teenagers who entered the country without guardians and are suspected
gang members, in a widening of President Donald Trump's crackdown on
The raids are set to begin on Sunday and continue through Wednesday,
according to an internal memo seen by Reuters. The teenagers targeted
will be 16- and 17-years-old.
The raids represent a sharp departure from practices during the
presidency of Barack Obama. Under Obama, minors could be targeted for
deportation if they had been convicted of crimes, but were not arrested
simply for suspected gang activity or membership.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement that a
person can be identified as a gang member if they meet two or more
criteria, including having gang tattoos, frequenting an area notorious
for gangs and wearing gang apparel.
The agency said it does not comment on plans for future law enforcement
operations, but that it focuses on individuals who pose a threat to
national security and public safety.
The memo instructing field offices to prepare for the raids was dated
June 30. A Department of Homeland Security official speaking on
background confirmed on Friday the raids were still scheduled to take
place, though ICE could still change its plans.
Trump, who campaigned on the promise of tough immigration enforcement,
has made deporting gang members, especially those belonging to the El
Salvador-based Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, a top priority.
"You have a gang called MS-13. They don't like to shoot people. They
like to cut people. They do things that nobody can believe," Trump said
at a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa last month. In a May speech, the
president promised the gang would be "gone from our streets very soon,
'THIS IS TROUBLING'
Although children can be deported like adults, U.S. immigration law
considers minors arriving at the border without a parent or guardian
particularly vulnerable and gives them additional protections.
Minors apprehended entering the country without a guardian are placed in
custody arrangements by U.S. Health and Human Services, often with a
family member living in the United States.
[to top of second column]
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Assistant Field
Office Director Jorge Field (R), 53, and Field Office Director David
Marin arrest a man in San Clemente, California, U.S., May 11, 2017.
REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo
Law enforcement agencies maintain databases of individuals suspected
of having gang affiliations, but the lists have come under fire from
civil rights groups.
Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration
Law Center in Los Angeles, said the databases often contain
"This is troubling on several levels," Hincapie said. "For one, the
gang databases in places like California are rife with errors. We
have seen babies labeled as potential gang members."
Immigration lawyer David Leopold of Ulmer & Berne said innocent
children could be swept up in the raids.
"In many cases, children donít freely decide to join a gang. They
are threatened by older gang members and forced to get a gang tattoo
if they live in a certain neighborhood," he said.
The raids planned for next week will also target parents who crossed
the border illegally with their children and have been ordered
deported by a judge, and immigrants who entered the country as
children without guardians and have since turned 18, according to
The document directs field offices to identify people in their areas
that meet the criteria.
The Obama administration targeted those two groups in 2016 raids
that sought to deter a surge of illegal border crossings by families
and minors that began in 2014.
Obama, however, directed immigration agents to prioritize for
deportation only those who had committed serious crimes or had
recently entered the country.
(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Editing by Sue Horton and Ross
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