Gang Members or Bullied Children? You Decide.

Posted on August 1, 2017 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

The Latest On ICE Raids in Long Island

By Andrew Craycroft, Esq.

Catholic Charities Immigration Services

Over the last few weeks, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)  initiated Operation Matador, a series of high-profile raids in Long Island targeting the Mara Salvatrucha gang, also known as MS-13. As immigration attorneys who work with unaccompanied minors, many of whom live in Long Island, we recognize the threat posed by gang violence in these communities. However, we are also deeply concerned that this well-publicized campaign gives the false impression that most children who arrive in the United States as unaccompanied minors -- or who received the legal protection called Special Immigrant Juvenile Status -- are criminals.  Instead, the reality we witness daily is many of these children are fleeing the gangs that Operation Matador purports to combat.  ICE’s operation to deport gang members is creating – intentionally – messages that undermine legal protections for children feeling violence. This is reckless, wrong, and cynical.

Let’s start by defining what Special Immigrant Juvenile Status is.   First signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status recognizes children’s unique circumstances and vulnerability.  It is designed to protect immigrant children from human trafficking, abuse, and other forms of serious harm. It has strict eligibility criteria that each applicant must prove, both in state court and before federal immigration adjudicators.  By definition, it is only available to children already present in the United States.


Certainly ICE Understands Its Own Laws

Yet ICE stated in a press release it issued last month that several accused gang members entered the United States with  Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. This is impossible because, as federal law makes clear,  Special Immigrant Juvenile Status does not allow someone to enter the country.  Certainly ICE, whose mandate is to enforce U.S. immigration laws, is aware of this.


Aunts & Uncles Renamed “Human Traffickers

Moreover, on the heels of Operation Matador, ICE has begun detaining relatives of unaccompanied minors for human trafficking without any indication that this is the case. Clearly, transporting immigrant children for forced labor or sexual exploitation is immoral and illegal.  However, mischaracterizing as “human traffickers” aunts, uncles and other relatives who step up to help newly arrived immigrant children is also wrong.  


Children Languishing Years in Detention Centers

By law, unaccompanied minors are eligible to be released into the custody of a sponsor, typically a family member. The sponsors ensure that the minors attend court hearings so they do not have to be detained during the entirety of their legal case. This allows children to attend school and acclimate to life in the United States rather than being jailed at the government’s expense. ICE detaining potential sponsors, characterizing them as human traffickers without reason to believe this is the case, will deprive thousands of unaccompanied minors of a relative who can care for them.  It  will also force these children to languish in detention centers for months, possibly years, until their court cases are resolved.


Vulnerable Children in Danger

We know firsthand how crucial  Special Immigrant Juvenile Status protection is to our clients and how challenging it is to obtain. Our clients are among the most vulnerable immigrants. Many of them, without  Special Immigrant Juvenile Status protection, would be at serious risk of severe harm, often at the hands of the same gangs that ICE is purporting to combat. Promotion of inaccurate views of  Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and of unaccompanied minors puts our most vulnerable clients in danger.

As  premier providers of immigration services, Catholic Charities provides regular immigration updates for “El Diario,” the leading source of news for Spanish-speaking New Yorkers.

Read this published article in Spanish in El Diario

As  premier providers of immigration services, Catholic Charities provides regular immigration updates for “El Diario,” the leading source of news for Spanish-speaking New Yorkers.

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