Bill Targeting Vulnerable Immigrants Will Miss The Mark In Combating Gangs

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The Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act, apparently aimed at combating gangs, would alarmingly expand the federal government’s powers to the point of vast overreach into the community’s most vulnerable populations.

The bill passed through the House of Representatives on Sept. 14.

Immigrants and advocates alike want to eradicate gangs from Long Island’s neighborhoods to make it safer for all. However, this bill gives the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the office of the U.S. Attorney General broad powers that would enable them to target individuals based on an ambiguous “reason to believe” their suspected gang involvement.

Perhaps in another administration, such power might be carefully weighed and measured before being wielded. However, the DHS under President Donald Trump has already demonstrated its willingness to target even those arrested for minor offenses.

The bill also does not take into account that young immigrants are especially susceptible — especially in the current political climate — making them easier prey for forced recruitment or unwanted association with gangs. Young immigrants might wear the wrong colors or sport national flags that will draw the ire of hyper-vigilant federal agents too eager to detain and deport.

Coupled with growing distrust for law enforcement, community members are less likely to approach police, even if they are victims, making gangs even more attractive and powerful.

This gap of understanding will pave the way for individuals to be falsely labeled as being involved with a gang. And, under the proposed law, they could be deported for this suspicion, even if not convicted of a crime.

The bill also broadly defines a gang as any organization with five or more people, whose enterprise includes “harboring” or aiding “certain aliens” in coming to the U.S. This category could target a number of humanitarian organizations, including churches and domestic violence shelters, that provide aid for individuals regardless of their immigration status.

Walter Barrientos, Long Island coordinator for Make The Road New York, said this bill, along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent sending of state troopers to 10 Long Island schools, are misguided actions aimed at public safety that come at the expense of the region’s most vulnerable immigrants.

“We are very concerned… all of these are attempts to create channels of criminalizing our people and labeling them as gang members,” Barrientos said.

The full bill text can be read here.

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Jano Tantongco is the online editor of Long Island Wins. He's previously worked in community journalism as a staff reporter for The Long Islander and The Queens Courier. He aims to pursue truth through a combination of rational inquiry and intuition. He also enjoys bossa nova, road trips and zen philosophy.

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