A 17-year-old Brentwood boy from El Salvador held for five months in federal custody was released last week after a California federal judge ruled against the federal government for a lack of evidence in designating him a member of MS-13.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California sued the federal government in August on behalf of the boy—known as F.E.–and two other Central American teens from Suffolk County who were being held by the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in Northern California.
On Nov. 20, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that the government lacked adequate evidence of gang affiliation. The next day, F.E. was released back into his family’s hands.
F.E. and the other teens, designated as unaccompanied minors, were not given the chance to dispute their detention, and were flown to the ORR facility in Northern California to be held indefinitely.
“The minors and their sponsors have the right to participate in a prompt hearing before an immigration judge in which the government’s evidence of changed circumstances is put to the test. By shipping the minors across the country for indefinite detention in a high-security facility before providing that hearing, the government has violated their due process rights,” the ruling read.
His attorney, Bryan Johnson, told Long Island Wins that the government presented “a lot of documents, but no facts.” He added that their evidence amounted to F.E. scribbling the Salvadoran area code of “503” in his notebook and reportedly being seen in the presence of alleged MS-13 gang members.
“Now, under the district courts ruling… the burden is on them to show that they’re a gang member, so they have to provide evidence, and it’s the probable cause standard of evidence,” Johnson said.
F.E. fled El Salvador when he was 14 after being threatened with death by gang members there.
In June, he was arrested for alleged disorderly conduct by the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD) after playing soccer with a friend on the way home from school. After he was arrested, he was in danger of being deported because of an U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hold on F.E.
But, Johnson said, he was able to have the hold lifted, and F.E. was released shortly after.
However, just days later, SCPD came to F.E.’s home to take him into custody again. Johnson said that police told F.E. that they “had to take him to immigration because he was illegal.” Suffolk police then brought him to the Central Islip courthouse, where ICE agents arrested him.
“It’s one of the traumatizing parts. He thought he was released, and all of a sudden, again they come there. He’s pretty terrified of the police, and he has good reason to be,” Johnson said.
“So, it was a completely illegal arrest because Suffolk County police don’t have the legal authority to make immigration arrests. There’s no 287(g) agreement,” Johnson said.
A 287(g) agreement effectively deputizes local law enforcement to be able to make immigration arrests in partnership with ICE.
Asked if “503” written in F.E.’s notebook and being seen with gang members is enough to label him a gang member, SCPD Police Commissioner Tim Sini told News 12 that they “stand by every single detention that we collaborated with ICE.”
“We targeted people based on factual allegations that they are active MS-13 members, and typically…it’s not one indicator. It’s a multitude of indicators,” Sini told News 12.
Now, Johnson said, F.E. is not out of the woods yet. He’s trying to get the teen transferred to another school or get homeschooled to continue his education. And, he added, the government is now trying to revoke F.E.’s Special Immigrant Juvenile status. He also has a pending green card application.
“He’s not leaving his house. I’m concerned too, because they’re still there, the police… Given what they did in the past, and given that they’re not apologizing for anything, they’re taking a hardline,” Johnson said. “I’m concerned.”