“ICE can be engaged in preventive enforcement.”
The Trump administration will engage in “preventive enforcement” to detain and deport Central American immigrants suspected of gang involvement, a senior White House administration official told reporters Thursday evening. The press call took place ahead of a presidential visit to New York to discuss ways to combat the well-organized and major street gang MS-13, which has extensive networks in El Salvador and the United States.
“If you are a gang member, you are a priority for removal. You’re gone,” the senior official who spoke on background said on a press call. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a gang member, or everyone knows you’re part of the gang… this means ICE can be engaged in preventive enforcement. [ICE officials] want to engage in behavior where [a victim] will never have to die in the first place.”
“If we’re told someone is a criminal member and there’s credible reason that they are, they’re gone,” the official added.
An internal U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency memo as seen by Reuters last week indicated that immigration agents should, in part, target immigrant teens aged 16 and 17 years old who came into the country without guardians and are suspected gang members for deportation proceedings. As such, agents have been conducting nationwide raids this week on minors who have been arrested for suspected gang activity. Under the previous Obama administration, minors could be deported if they had been convicted of crimes.
The senior administration official expressed concern that MS-13 gang members were “taking advantage” of a four-year long crisis on the southern U.S. border where tens of thousands of unaccompanied Central American minors showed up to flee violence in their home countries and to reunite with family members.
“MS-13 has seen a particular resurgence because of the migrant crisis in Central America to the point where you have mass killings in, say Long Island, that has been extrarodinally brutal,” the senior administration official said, explaining that the presence of MS-13 in Long Island was “personal” for the president as a New Yorker.
“[The president] is going to the epicenter of the MS-13 threats, the focal points of this threat to deliver this message,” the official added. “We’re literally liberating cities and towns of this scourge.”
The senior administration official also said on the call that the Trump administration would look to Congress to pass legislation to fund the hiring of 10,000 more ICE agents for the enforcement and removal of immigrants; hire more immigration judges on the border; close a “loophole on catch-and-release,” a practice which ended in 2006 to release immigrants into the United States while they awaited their court hearings; and force localities and states to cooperate with federal immigration agents to detain immigrants for deportation proceedings.
According to the memo obtained by Reuters, ICE agents can detain teenagers as suspected gang members so long as they fit two or more criteria of gang identifiers, including “having gang tattoos, wearing gang apparel or being frequently spotted in an area known for heavy gang activity,” The Hill reported.
According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, nine children have been detained in Suffolk County, New York this week ahead of President Donald Trump’s visit with local law enforcement officials and Rep. Peter King (R-NY). The NYCLU accused ICE on Thursday of keeping these children in restrictive detention settings as the result of unconfirmed allegations of gang affiliation made by the Suffolk County Police Department. The allegations were “based on wearing a black t-shirt to school, playing soccer with suspected gang affiliates or for wearing clothing with the Chicago Bulls logo,” a NYCLU press statement said.
It’s not entirely clear how federal agents can separate gang tattoos from regular tattoos. Earlier this year, ICE agents detained a so-called DREAMer who entered the country as a child based in part on his tattoo, which they said was a gang tattoo. His lawyer explained that his tattoo, which read “La Paz BCS,” stood for the word “peace” and his place of birth.
“No child deserves to have his life upended or be ripped away from family based on flimsy allegations,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Children who in many cases came to America to flee gang violence are being disappeared to face deportation without adequate protections or investigation. We will continue to challenge the recklessness of the Trump deportation machine.”
Ahead of visit to Long Island, Trump administration rounds up immigrant teenagers was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.