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Immigration raids to target teens suspected of gang membership

July 22, 2017 at 5:17 PM EDT
U.S. immigration officials on Sunday are expected to begin four days of nationwide raids targeting teenagers suspected of belonging to gangs, under a plan outlined in a U.S. Department of Homeland Security document that has been viewed by Reuters. Reuters reporter Julia Edwards Ainsley, who broke the story, joins Hari Sreenivasan from Washington to discuss.
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Tomorrow, U.S. immigration officials are expected to begin four days of nationwide raids targeting teenagers suspected of belonging to gangs. The plan is outlined in a Department of Homeland Security documents seen by “Reuters”.

Reporter Julia Edwards Ainsley broke the story and joins me now from Washington.

So, what’s the plan and how is this different?

JULIA EDWARDS AINSLEY, REPORTER, REUTERS: The document outlined several key demographic groups that they want to be targeted in these raids by ICE agents. The one that was the most striking departure from policy that we saw under the previous administration is the targeting of 16 and 17 year olds who are suspected of gang activity.

U.S. immigration told me that they can meet two or more criteria. Those criteria could be things like a gang tattoo, wearing gang apparel, or just hanging in an area that’s frequented by gangs. So, of course, there are a number of immigration lawyers and civil rights and civil liberties lawyers who are saying that that is not enough to find someone — to make someone a target for deportation, especially a minor.

SREENIVASAN: How different is this from the Obama administration’s interest? And what was the threshold there versus what this is?

AINSLEY: So, it’s interesting. As I went back and I read the November 2014 priorities for deportation that Obama set out and that did mention 16 and 17 year olds, but they were people who had been convicted of a gang-related crime. That was his way of saying that all of those people are, although these people are minors, they’ve entered into another category by committing a crime, like we see when a juvenile gets an adult kind of sentence in court. This changes that, of course, though, because these are people just suspected of gang activity.

SREENIVASAN: If you are in the neighborhoods, because you live there, that already kind of checks up one of the boxes, right? So, basically, you can escape the neighborhood and move somewhere else tomorrow to get away from these raids?

AINSLEY: I know. I think that was probably the most striking thing that I saw on that list, was hanging out in these places that are notorious for gang activity. I mean, that could be a schoolyard. That could be right outside of your public school. That could be a parking lot of a grocery store where your family would frequent. I mean, for a lot of people, there’s really no way to get around that. And as I was told, there are a lot of people who — particularly those who have fled violence in places like El Salvador, with the notorious MS13 gang, that has strong roots in the United States, a lot of times, those people come here, live in communities of other El Salvadorians, with people with strong ties with that gang and they have no choice but to get a tattoo, or their lives could be threatened.

SREENIVASAN: And apparel. I mean, this is something that goes back to back when this conversation was between the Crips and Bloods in L.A. in, you know, ‘80s and ‘90s, oh what are the colors, what’s the uniform?

AINSLEY: Right. I mean, I do actually remember being in a public schools where there was a rule in my public school I thin against wearing all blue or all red, because those were days were that was seen as a gang affiliation. Some of these also could have changed. There are a number of gangs that aren’t as overt.

But the bottom-line is that these aren’t legal definitions of what makes someone a gang member and that’s not even illegal to be a gang member. But at this point, ICE, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, can really write the rules over whoever they want to target because it is already a crime to be in the United States illegally. And so, therefore, they can come up with different categories of who they want to target that really isn’t based on U.S. Criminal Code in any way.

SREENIVASAN: All right. Julia Edwards Ainsley of “Reuters” — thanks so much.

AINSLEY: Thanks for having me.

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