NEW REPORT: Trump Admin Flouts Rule of Law, Falsely Uses “Gang Affiliation” to Profile Young Immigrants of Color

May 16th, 2018

Immigration advocates sue ICE for FOIA Records

NEW YORK, NY - The New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) and the Immigrant and Non-Citizen Rights Clinic (INRC) at the CUNY School of Law today released a new report, Swept up in the Sweep: The Impact of Gang Allegations on Immigrant New Yorkers. The report details the Trump administration’s using supposed-gang enforcement to carry out punitive immigration policies. Through an extensive field study, the report shows how Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), with other federal agencies and law enforcement, uses arbitrary methods to profile immigrant youth of color to allege gang affiliation. As a result, immigrant youth are detained for prolonged periods, have had their visa applications denied, and have faced deportation without proper due process.

The NYIC is filing a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York to compel ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to disclose information regarding Operation Matador (more information below). ICE denied a previous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

“The Trump administration is using the ongoing gang violence as a pretext to profile and detain immigrant youth. A backwards baseball cap is not an excuse for a backwards immigration policy. New York will be safer if law enforcement can build trust in our immigrant communities, rather than instill fear in immigrants of being arbitrarily labeled and locked up,” said Anu Joshi, Director of Immigration Policy at the New York Immigration Coalition.

"Our research shows that little so-called 'proof' such as the color of one’s clothes, the bodega they bought their lunch at, or the shape of a tattoo can be used by the U.S. government to justify a gang allegation and deport aspiring Americans. By carelessly painting large swaths of New York’s Latinx immigrants as gang members, the U.S. government has again used threats and fear as justification for the erosion of the constitutional and civil rights of communities of color," said Nermeen Arastu, Clinical Professor & Co-Director of the Immigrant and Non-Citizen Rights Clinic at the CUNY School of Law.

“We are seeing ICE and local law enforcement work together in broad sweeps without any evidence of criminal activity and no basis for suspicion other than ethnicity. As a result of these sweeps, police are acting on behalf of ICE to pick up individuals with no criminal history. In many cases, there is no basis for criminal charges, and rather than release them, the police hand these unlawfully detained individuals over to ICE. The partnership between ICE and local law enforcement, allows each agency to act where the other’s powers are restricted, resulting in violations of due process and fundamental rights,” said Emily Torstveit Ngara, Visiting Associate Clinical Professor and Director of the Deportation Defense Clinic at Hofstra School of Law.

“Gang databases are purely based on stereotypes. Gang databases do not require any criminal background or even proof of gang membership, instead include being seen with neighbors, friends or families; observed in local bodegas or restaurants or parks; and social media and video content. There are no notices and checks to assure accuracy of these databases. Relying on these gang databases for immigration or detention decisions violates due process, equal protection, and adherence to fact-based decision making,” said Babe Howell, professor at CUNY School of Law.

“For over a decade, we have seen the shattering impact of the government’s post-9/11 ‘anti-terrorism’ policies, which has labeled immigrants as ‘national security threats’ based on nothing more than their nationality, ethnicity, or religion. Today, the Trump administration distorts MS-13 to justify enhanced immigration enforcement against innocent Latinx New Yorkers – labeling many as ‘gang members’ based on scant evidence and overbroad criteria. These policies have clear devastating impacts: indefinite detention, permanent banishment, distrust, trampled civil liberties, and the absence of enhanced safety,” said Talia Peleg, Visiting Clinical Law Professor in the Immigrant and Non-Citizen Rights Clinic at the CUNY School of Law.

The report’s findings are based on survey responses from practicing attorneys, advocates, and community leaders throughout New York State.

Report highlights:

  • 78% of service providers report that law enforcement made gang related allegations against immigrant clients or community members.
  • 50% of service providers report that law enforcement makes such allegations “on the streets” and 33% indicate home raids.
  • Law enforcement uses questionable criteria to claim that Latinx individuals are gang members: wearing certain kinds of clothes, doodling in school notebooks, or living in high gang activity neighborhoods.
  • The “evidence” is often uncorroborated and would not meet evidentiary standards in a criminal court, although the threshold is lower in immigration court.
  • Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice have used gang allegations to deny asylum or legal permanent residency, and justify the detention and deportation of Latinx youth.

In the coming weeks, we will be releasing a toolkit for immigration lawyers representing clients accused of gang affiliation and Know Your Rights materials for community members.


Operation Matador is an ICE program which targets immigrants affiliated with the gang MS-13, based predominantly on Long Island and in the Lower Hudson Valley. It uses specific criteria to loosely define “gang affiliation” and effectively profile immigrant youth of color. For the past few months, the NYIC and the INRC have worked to gather information from immigration legal service providers on how ICE is carrying out gang enforcement on Long Island. Together, the NYIC and the INRC have noticed that gang enforcement is often used as a pretext to arrest immigrants or deny applications for benefits.

For example, ICE agents and local law enforcement lead a pre-dawn raid against a man who was suspected of being armed and in MS-13, but was subsequently detained for entering the country illegally. Gang membership in itself is not illegal, the arresting officers did not have a criminal warrant, and only BB guns and pellet guns were found inside.

Six months ago, the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for documents relating to Operation Matador, an ICE program that partners with federal, state, and local law enforcement to target gang members. The FOIA was submitted to the following agencies: ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Suffolk and Nassau County Police Departments, and the New York City Police Department (NYPD).

ICE denied the request for information, CBP provided limited information, and USCIS has yet to give a satisfactory response.