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May 22, 2018 – As rhetoric from the Trump Administration has tied young immigrants to gangs, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center today released “Deportation By Any Means Necessary: How Immigration Officials are Labeling Immigrant Youth as Gang Members.” This report highlights how immigration officials across various sub-agencies of the Department of Homeland Security are accusing immigrant youth of gang involvement, through undisclosed and unsupported claims, putting young people at immediate risk of detention and deportation. The new report details the findings of a national survey conducted by the ILRC, in conjunction with Professor Laila Hlass of Tulane University Law School, of immigration attorneys in 21 states, focusing on the settings in which gang allegations arise against non-citizen youth, the most-common types of tenuous evidence presented–including photos posted to social media, and recommended strategies that attorneys are using to defend and proactively protect their clients.
“Every single one of us aspires to live and to care for our youth in safe and nurturing communities, but the Trump administration has devoted its energy towards demonizing and criminalizing youth of color,” said Rachel Prandini, staff attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.“The continued narrative that young Latinos are all gang-affiliated is one that is conveniently perpetuated by the White House to further instill fear of communities of color and facilitate their disposal through a mass criminalization and deportation agenda. No one should have to face jail or deportation for a charge brought because they wore the wrong color to school or live in the wrong neighborhood, like this survey shows is happening now. We should protect our youth, not criminalize them.”
This survey found the evidence immigration officials are employing of gang allegations in immigration proceedings are tenuous and lack transparency. The fact that immigration law provides no clear definition of gang involvement and offers no rules of evidence in immigration proceedings means that immigrant officials are often permitted to offer flimsy or false evidence of gang involvement based upon their own over broad and largely uncontestable interpretation of the term.
Findings of the survey include:
- Gang accusations, including false accusations, can greatly influence the outcome in a variety of situations, including: decisions on asylum cases, DACA applications, and other forms of relief from deportation, as well as release from detention.
- The survey found the types of evidence often being used to support gang allegations created serious due process concerns, with the burden of proof falling on young people to prove a negative: lack of gang involvement. Evidence used includes: investigatory notes, social media photos and school records, focused on things like the kind of clothing worn.
- A majority of attorneys (84 percent) surveyed are proactively screening their clients to learn if any kind of allegation of gang-involvement may have been leveled against them through any setting. More than half of respondents (54 percent) use FOIA requests to learn of any possible gang allegations in their client’s immigration file and 40 percent review their client’s social media accounts.
- Many lawyers handling these types of cases are informing their clients of the ways that gang allegations can now arise by distributing Know Your Rights information (63 percent) and educating them on how social media indicators could be used against them, as well as how these accusations jeopardize their status and freedom.
“Our research found that a young person may be branded with a gang label based solely upon the assessment of a single school safety officer, immigration agent, or police officer,” stated Prof. Laila L. Hlass of Tulane University Law School. “Gang allegations are a new and significant component of the school to deportation pipeline, where immigrant youth find themselves at the crosshairs of an unforgiving immigration enforcement system and aggressive law enforcement.”
The ILRC submitted Senate Judiciary hearing testimony in June 2017 on efforts to combat gang violence that support local communities crafting effective local public safety solutions and a practice advisory on the impact of flawed gang databases. All of the ILRC’s resources on gang allegations can be found at: https://www.ilrc.org/resources-gang-allegations.
The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) is a national nonprofit that works with immigrants, community organizations, legal professionals, and policy makers to build a democratic society that values diversity and the rights of all people. Through community education programs, legal training & technical assistance, and policy development & advocacy, the ILRC’s mission is to protect and defend the fundamental rights of immigrant families and communities.www.ilrc.org