YOLO COUNTY (CBS13) — It began on the streets of New York City but, for some teens, ends at Yolo County Juvenile Hall.
The ACLU of Northern California filed a lawsuit against U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session, Elaine Duke, Acting Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Thomas D. Homan is the Acting Director of ICE, among others, on Friday.
The lawsuit alleges federal immigration officials are wrongfully arresting Latino teens in New York and, in many cases, sending them to Yolo County’s juvenile hall for deportation.
“In the middle of the night, (a detainee) is taken out to an airport, put on an airplane and brought to Sacramento,” explained William Freeman, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU.
The lawsuit claims: “Under the guise of a ‘crackdown’ on transnational street gangs, federal immigration authorities and the federal agency responsible for the care and custody of unaccompanied immigrant children have undertaken a concerted effort to arrest, detain, and transport children far from their families and attorneys.”
The lawsuit goes on to say that those arrested are denied immigration benefits and services, which they are entitled under U.S. law, and that the evidence is based on, “Flimsy, unreliable and unsubstantiated allegations of gang affiliation.”
“ICE has never told these children what it is that they are accused of and what evidence they that the children are gang members,” said Freeman.
Two weeks ago, President Trump spoke about cracking down on transnational street gangs, like the notorious MS-13, accused of murdering people in New York City.
“We thank the law enforcement officers who are going after violent criminals and MS-13 gang members and restoring safety and peace to our communities,” Trump said in a national.
In an email to CBS13 News, ICE says it does not comment on pending cases, but did say that the “lack of comment should not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations.”
The email goes to say that an individual can also be identified as a gang member if he/she meets two or more of the eight criteria, including tattoos that symbolize or identifying a specific gang; if the subject frequents an area notorious for gangs and/or associates with known gang members; if they display gang signs/symbols; if he/she has been identified as a gang member by a reliable source; has been arrested with other gang members on two or more occasions; identifies as a gang member by jail or prison authorities; the subject identifies as a gang member through seized or otherwise lawfully obtained written or electronic correspondence; and/or if they have been seen wearing gang apparel or been found possessing gang paraphernalia.
The ACLU contests, if the ICE has evidence, they should prove it. “Give the child and his attorney notice of what the evidence is so they can contest it,” said Freeman.
The ACLU admits that some of the teens do have a criminal history, though few have an actual conviction. And federal courts already know of the detainees’ immigration status, which is already undergoing court proceedings. The organization claims this is just a tactic for ICE to show it’s tough on crime and gangs.
“I suppose if they can keep everybody away from seeing that evidence they can get away with it. And we are here to say you can’t get away with it,” said Freeman.
Back in June, a federal judge ruled that teens have the right to review the evidence with their attorneys, and that’s how this lawsuit came about.
The ACLU says they don’t know how many teens were sent to Yolo County or how many remain, except that at one point it was probably around six of them. The lawsuit claims that most of the teens are from Central America – all under the age of 18.