Congressman Lee Zeldin recently introduced legislation that will revoke citizenship for those “involved” in gang activity prior to or within 10 years of becoming naturalized.
Though the bill is seemingly grounded in public safety, the glaring question of how law enforcement actually determines gang involvement is still on the table. As Long Island Wins has previously reported—and as advocates know full well—authorities have ascribed gang involvement for activities as minor as displaying the flag of El Salvador on Facebook.
Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) said that the legislation would “cripple public safety, while demonizing Long Island’s thousands of hard-working immigrants.”
“As we’ve seen, ICE’s so-called gang affiliation is often based on arbitrary criteria that needlessly criminalizes young immigrant men of color, as opposed to targeting actual criminals,” Choi said. “Rep Zeldin’s proposed legislation would do nothing to help public safety and impede law abiding immigrants from getting their hard-won citizenship, while further undermining trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities.”
Immigrants and their advocates are ardent supporters of public safety, but recognize that there are already laws on the books that prevent—either temporarily or permanently—those who commit certain crimes from becoming citizens. As Choi notes, the bill is nothing more than “political posturing.”
The questionable territory of gang enforcement has become even murkier under the Trump administration, as the Department of Homeland Security has started to target any and all undocumented immigrants.
As an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (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.
To dig deeper into how federal and local law enforcement determine gang affiliation, the NYIC and Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative, filed freedom of information requests last year to uncover how immigrants are being targeted. Specifically, the organizations are seeking more information on ICE’s “Operation Matador,” their gang enforcement initiative partnering with local authorities. The requests are still pending.