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ICE Program Used to Arrest Gang Members Is Now Being Used to Target Undocumented Immigrants

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers in Long Island, New York, are implementing a program called Operation Matador, which will focus on capturing gang members associated with MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, an international gang originating from El Salvador.

MORE: ICE Detains Teen in New York Days Before His High School Graduation

This arrest strategy has detained nearly 350 undocumented people since the month of May. However, the integrity of the arrests has come into question as young undocumented people have been arrested based solely on appearance and association. According to CBS News ICE agent Jason Molina and his team tracked down a 20-year-old suspect based on pictures of him posing with gang signs. They expected the suspect to be heavily armed but only found two BB guns. CBS News pointed out that gang membership is not a crime and the 20-year-old did not have a criminal warrant, his only crime was entering the country illegally.

Molina admitted that “The purpose of classifying him as a gang member or a gang associate is because once he goes in front of an immigration judge, we don't want him to get bail because the whole point of this operation is to get these known gang members off the street.“

According to the New York Times, an undocumented 17-year-old was arrested by Suffolk County police on suspicion of “killing someone” and being in a gang because he was wearing a soccer jersey with “El Salvador” written on it.

This aggressive law enforcement has been possible under the Trump Administration. According to Tom Homan, ICE’s acting director, he felt his hands were tied in the past, but since Mr. Trump's election, ICE has been able to make more arrests – in part because this administration allows him to prioritize any individual who crosses the border illegally, not just those who have committed other crimes.

PLUS: ICE Director Says Immigrants, Not Law Enforcement, Break Up Families

NPR reports that arrests of so-called "non-criminal aliens" - immigrants whose only crime was an immigrant violation - have risen 43 percent. Homan says arrests of gang members - including MS-13 - has jumped 83 percent.