U.S. immigration officials are planning several days of raids across the country from July 23 through July 26 aimed at arresting teenagers suspected of being gang members.
A June 30 internal memo to Immigration and Customs Enforcement staff instructed them to make plans for the raids, Reuters reports.
The raids will mark the first time ICE officers will seek to detain and deport minors who were not found guilty of a criminal offense. Since President Donald Trump came to power, he has enabled ICE to deport adults suspected of committing a crime.
"You have a gang called MS-13," Trump said at a rally in Iowa in June. "They don't like to shoot people. They like to cut people. They do things that nobody can believe."
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The ICE directive stated that individuals suspected of being in a gang can be identified if they have gang-related tattoos, wear gang apparel or frequent an area where gangs are known to operate.
"This is troubling on several levels," said Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. "For one, the gang databases in places like California are rife with errors. We have seen babies labeled as potential gang members."
Immigration lawyer David Leopold pointed out another problem that comes with targeting children.
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"In many cases, children don't freely decide to join a gang," he said. "They are threatened by older gang members and forced to get a gang tattoo if they live in a certain neighborhood."
News of the planned raids comes after ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan promised to send additional immigration officers to sanctuary cities, jurisdictions which refuse to comply with federal immigration authorities.
"In the America I grew up in, cities didn't shield people who violated the law..." Homan told the Washington Examiner. "...What I want to get to is a clear understanding from everybody, from the congressmen to the politicians to law enforcement to those who enter the country illegally, that ICE is open for business."
Homan noted that he has been given the green light to hire 10,000 additional ICE officers. He also stated that under Trump, illegal border crossings have dropped by 70 percent.
Detentions by ICE officers are up 40 percent. A recent wave of raids in New Mexico triggered criticism from immigrant rights groups.
"Terrorizing immigrant families is not what New Mexico is about," Marcela Diaz, executive director of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, told KRWG. "Instead of using our taxpayer money to help revive struggling rural communities, the Trump administration is using those funds to ramp up deportations of the very people keeping these communities alive. We need our leaders in Congress to stand with us and fight to protect our rural communities."