Alleged gang members across Long Island were arrested last week as part of the ongoing “Operation Matador,” a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) initiative under heavy scrutiny for its seemingly wayward classification of what defines gang members.
The joint operation netted 24 individuals across Long Island, the New York City metropolitan area, and the Hudson Valley. ICE did not specify how many in each region were arrested.
Since the operation began, 210 individuals from Nassau County and 177 individuals in Suffolk have been arrested. Out of all those arrested, 65 have been released from ICE detention by immigration judges, showing that ICE’s enthusiasm is not necessarily shared by the courts.
As advocates and immigrants alike know, ICE has been collaborating with both the Nassau County and Suffolk County police departments to attempt to cast a dragnet over immigrant communities. As an ICE agent admitted to CBS News in November 2017, they have made gang enforcement arrests based only on their intelligence and without criminal warrants, supporting the conclusion that gang enforcement is increasingly used as a pretext to arrest immigrants.
The New York Immigration Coalition filed requests in November 2017 through the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as well as through New York’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), to uncover the specific criteria law enforcement agencies use in determining gang affiliation. They have been directed at ICE, including their Enforcement and Removal Operations, as well as Homeland Security Investigations; 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).
Walter Barrientos, Long Island organizing director for Make The Road New York, told Newsday that the arrests illustrate a disturbing trend in this Trumpian era of mass deportation.
“The administration continues with this all-out assault on immigrant communities,” Barrientos said. “People are being handed over to federal authorities, many times over unfounded allegations from which there is no turning around because many of these people end up deported.”
The continued barrage of ICE raids on our immigrant communities only exacerbates the climate of fear precipitated by the White House. While we are all determined to combat gangs like MS-13, it is all too clear that the collateral damage of over-aggressive enforcement may in fact make it more difficult to engage in the community policing that can more precisely and effectively target gang members. ICE’s approach has shown itself to be much like the commander-in-chief’s: haphazard, ill-informed, and uncompassionate.