The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU, has filed a class action lawsuit against President Donald Trump’s administration over the detention of immigrant teenagers for “unsubstantiated claims of gang affiliation.”
The lawsuit, announced on Friday, names as defendants Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, ORR.
On behalf of three teenagers recently detained on Long Island, just east of New York, and later taken to a government facility in northern California, the suit charges ORR with accepting ICE’s unsubstantiated gang allegations and placing these children in severely restrictive conditions.
“We’re talking about teens who were picked up for play-fighting with a friend, or for showing pride in their home country of El Salvador,” said Stephen Kang, attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.
“The Office of Refugee Resettlement is accepting wholesale that young immigrants should be kept behind bars because of what they look like or where they come from.”
The organization also alleges that federal authorities are “embarking on a concerted effort to detain and deport children based on unreliable claims of gang affiliation and flawed reports of criminal history” under the guise of a “crackdown” on transnational street gangs.
Trump gave a speech in Suffolk County, N.Y., last month vowing to crack down on MS-13 gang members, as a pretext for stepped-up immigration enforcement measures. Some attorneys have claimed their clients have been unfairly caught up in the police crackdown.
Devin O'Malley, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, defended the detentions.
"During the Attorney General's visit to El Salvador, he repeatedly heard of efforts by MS-13 and other transnational gangs to prey on and recruit children as young as eight years old," O'Malley said. "We will absolutely defend the President's lawful authority to keep Americans safe and protect communities from gang violence."
The ACLU has launched numerous lawsuits against Trump’s administration since he took office, suing over Trump’s travel ban and challenging the legality of his voter fraud commission.
In this latest lawsuit, the ACLU seeks the release of the teens who are the plaintiffs as well as an injunction to prevent the government from further detaining immigrant children without cause.
“The government rightly reunited these kids with their families years ago,” said William S. Freeman, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Northern California.
“They have dreams and legal claims to remain in the United States, but they’ve been swept up by an administration that prioritizes deportations over truth and justice.”