When President Donald Trump visited Suffolk County, NY, last week, he did so in large part to tout the community’s ongoing campaign against the MS-13 gang—a message praised as “very important” by Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco in an interview on Monday’s Fox & Friends that Trump was quick to share.
That crackdown, however, has seemingly relied on frighteningly insubstantial evidence when it comes to immigrant children arrested for affiliation with MS-13.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, there have been nine minors arrested and detained—oftentimes in facilities thousands of miles from home—by Suffolk County police for alleged MS-13 membership. In speaking with those children, however, the ACLU claims that many were targeted simply for the color of their clothes, or which sports team they apparently root for.
“NYCLU has learned that allegations of gang involvement have been leveled based on wearing a black T-shirt to school, playing soccer with suspected gang affiliates or for wearing clothing with the Chicago Bulls logo,” the organization claimed in a statement released to coincide with Trump’s Suffolk County visit.
In late June, three Latinx immigrant students at Suffolk County’s Bellport High School were suspended for gang activity after they were accused by school officials of being affiliated with MS-13, with one of those students identified as such after wearing a Chicago Bulls T-shirt to class. While it is unclear whether these students are among those described by the ACLU in their statement, at least one of the minors has since been detained in Virginia, and will eventually be deported, similar to what the ACLU described in their release.
I have reached out to the Suffolk County police department for comment on the arrests and detentions, and will update this story with their response.
The ACLU’s letter comes days after Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini admitted to the New York Times that his officers will occasionally work with federal officials to detain, and eventually deport, individuals suspected of gang affiliation based on their immigration statues, rather than specific criminal charges.
“This is causing us concern, where labeling someone as gang affiliated is not enough to make a criminal arrest,” attorney Philip Desgranges told the Associated Press. “It’s causing kids to spiral into this system where they’re whisked away.”