MS-13 sweeps shrouded in secrecy


Associated Press

NEW YORK

It was a tally so impressive that President Donald Trump touted it at his State of the Union address: Since May, agents cracking down on the violent gangs terrorizing the working-class suburbs of Long Island had swept up 428 gang suspects, including 220 members of the notorious MS-13.

But the sweep, Operation Matador, also has been shrouded in secrecy. Federal and state authorities have declined repeated requests from The Associated Press for even basic information made public in most law-enforcement operations, such as the names of those arrested and the crimes they are accused of committing.

They won’t divulge their ages, immigration statuses or current whereabouts. And while they say 44 of those arrested have been deported, they refuse to say what happened to the rest, including whether they are even still in custody. They say releasing more details could endanger the suspects and jeopardize ongoing investigations.

The lack of transparency comes amid accusations by immigration-rights groups that the government is using unsubstantiated rumors of gang affiliations to detain innocent people. Federal immigration judges have already ordered the release of some detainees arrested on suspicion of being MS-13 members when the government couldn’t produce any evidence of gang activity.

Some parents and activists say some of those included in the tally are innocent teenagers who came to the U.S. as unaccompanied minors, spending weeks locked in maximum-security detention centers based on flimsy and false allegations of gang activity. Civil-liberties lawyers say that in some cases, their alleged “activity” was wearing a black T-shirt or making a hand gesture.

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