Long Island teen labeled gang member, detained for months speaks out

CENTRAL ISLIP, Long Island (WABC) -- One of 13 Hispanic teenagers from Long Island who were recently released by an immigration judge after spending months in ICE custody is speaking out to Eyewitness News.

The 16-year-old from Central Islip didn't want his identity revealed, but he told Eyewitness News reporter Kristin Thorne what it was like to be in jail since June. The boy was picked up by immigration agents after getting into a fight at Central Islip High School, where he was a student.

"I feel happy because I'm with my mom again," he said. "And I've been given a new opportunity."

Last week, a federal judge in California ruled that immigration judges had to review by November 29 all the cases of minors arrested by ICE after April 2017 on suspicion of having gang affiliations.

The 13 boys from Long Island were released this week after federal judges in lower Manhattan ruled the government didn't have sufficient evidence to prove the boys were gang members.

"The proceedings continue just that the children will be able to participate with them," said Martha Arce, an attorney representing the teen. "The children will be able to attend their hearings and remain with their families until the final outcome of their status in the United States is decided."

The arrests were made under ICE's Homeland Security Investigations' Operation Matador, which aims to combat the MS-13 gang on Long Island.

A spokeswoman for ICE said the arrests made under Operation Matador are intelligence and evidence driven.

"HSI (Homeland Security Investigations) does not profile or make arrests with prejudice but rather uses reliable information gathered through multiple sources which results in the arrest of an individual," said Rachel Yong Yow.
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