The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) filed suit against the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD) on Monday, April 9, after it failed to respond to Freedom of Information Law requests (FOIL) for details related to its role in the identification, arrest, and detention by federal authorities of immigrant students accused of gang involvement.
NYCLU has reported that collaboration between the SCPD, the South Country Central School District in Brookhaven, and federal immigration authorities has resulted in a “school-to-deportation pipeline,” through which children are being separated from families, detained, and ordered to be deported based on dubious claims of gang involvement.
“Eight months after filing our records requests, New Yorkers still have no answers from the Suffolk police about its role in the Trump administration’s immigration dragnet,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “During that time, ICE rounded up dozens of Long Island teens only to later concede they pose no threat. When immigrant families are being torn apart, lives upended and fear spread, the public deserves answers from Suffolk police.”
Despite repeated inquiries, SCPD has not responded to NYCLU’s FOIL requests from August 2017. In a report released in September 2017, NYCLU found that the problem was not isolated to just SCPD, describing how the organization’s FOIL requests to 22 other police departments around New York State were ignored, excessively redacted, or otherwise inadequately addressed.
The NYCLU received reports last summer from families saying that their children were targeted for deportation after school officials disciplined students on “questionable” evidence of gang affiliation. One Bellport High School student was suspended without warning when he wore a shirt with a small Chicago Bulls logo. Another student was suspended for displaying an El Salvadoran flag on his Facebook page. NYCLU is aware of at least two students from Bellport High suspended on such grounds who were subsequently detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“Immigrant teens and families on Long Island tell me that they are afraid to go to school or even step outside because they are constantly treated as suspicious,” said Irma Solis, director of the NYCLU Suffolk County chapter. “By keeping their criteria for classifying people as gang members secret, and by sharing information with immigration authorities, local police are creating a climate of fear for immigrant families. Police need to be more transparent and work more responsibly with the community.”