A lawsuit filed Friday by the ACLU of Northern California claims federal immigration authorities have been wrongfully arresting Latino teens in New York and, in a number of cases, shipping them to Woodland to be held in Yolo County’s juvenile hall.
The activities targeted by the class-action lawsuit began in Suffolk County, on New York’s Long Island, where two weeks ago President Donald Trump spoke about cracking down on transnational street gangs. The area has been plagued by murders allegedly committed by members of a notorious gang called MS-13.
The ACLU lawsuit alleges that some of those arrested had no gang affiliations or serious criminal records, but that they were whisked away, flown across the country and deposited in the Yolo County Juvenile Detention Facility without ever having seen a judge or been informed of any charges against them.
Federal authorities “have undertaken a concerted effort to arrest, detain, and transport children far from their families and … based on flimsy, unreliable and unsubstantiated allegations of gang affiliation,” the lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco, claims.
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
In recent months, ICE agents have been arresting teenagers in Suffolk County at the behest of local police and sending them to the only two high-security juvenile facilities that the federal government contracts with, the lawsuit says. One is in Virginia; the other is in Woodland, according the ACLU.
In one case, a juvenile identified only as A.H. had fled Honduras two years ago to escape an abusive father, the lawsuit says. He was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection but later released to the custody of his mother on Long Island, it says.
On June 12, two plainclothes ICE officers arrested A.H. outside his home, saying he had admitted to being a gang member, which A.H. claims was untrue, the lawsuit says.
During a 36-hour period, ICE agents took him first to New York, then flew him to Los Angeles and finally to Sacramento, where he was placed in Yolo County juvenile hall.
After a hearing on June 29, a federal judge ordered officials to re-evaluate the case. They eventually returned A.H. to a detention facility in New York, where he remains, the ACLU said.
“A.H. was arrested without cause, placed in a secure holding cell 2,500 miles from his mother and guardian, deprived of access to his counsel, deprived of notice and an opportunity to be heard on whether he should be detained,” the lawsuit claims.
“(He) continues to be held in custody and denied reunification with his parent and release into her custody, in violation of due process and federal law,” it says.
Another teen identified by his initials in the suit was also held at the Woodland facility, the complaint says.
William Freeman, an attorney with the ACLU, said there are least a half-dozen teens with similar stories who were brought to Yolo County to be detained and deported.
“What we’re seeing is a disturbing trend in the new administration’s immigration policy,” Freeman said. “They’re arresting (teenagers) off the street and sending them to maximum security facilities on the other side of the country.
“All of this is happening without a shred of due process and without the basic constitutional rights that everyone has, including immigrants,” he said.