MS-13 Gang Databases Sweep Up Innocent Youth: Report

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ICE agent, Chicago. Photo by Josh Denmark/DHS via Flickr

Profiling young Latinos as “gang members”—often with little evidence beyond a suspect tattoo— has “devastating” consequences for individuals and their communities, according to a study by the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law.

Authors of the study concluded that databases and information-sharing among federal immigration authorities and local law enforcement often resulted in collecting names of individuals with no connection to MS-13, a notorious gang which has been associated with murders and drug dealings across the U.S., reports Voices of NY.

The study, based on a survey of 43 immigration lawyers and immigration advocates in New York State, notes that allegations of gang membership have been used to deny asylum or legal residents, and as a pretext to deny applications for benefits or to arrest immigrants.

A young person can be branded as a gang member just because he or she happens to know someone in a gang or connects to a gang member via social media, and the suspected name can be added to a gang database without knowing it, said Babe Howell, a CUNY law professor in a conference call discussing the study’s findings.

The study was co-produced by the CUNY School of Law Immigrant & Non-Citizen Rights Clinic and the New York Immigration Coalition.

The authors called for setting “stringent” requirements for adding names to a gang database, including limiting subjects to individuals 16 and over, and who have been convicted for violent offenses or gang-motivated felony offenses.

Criteria for inclusion should be published and publicly available, and periodic audits of databases by neutral third parties should be conducted, with a view to expunging names when new information becomes available.

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