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Immigration Officials Use Secretive Gang Databases to Deny Migrant Asylum Claims

Published: July 10, 2019
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Source: Nextgov

With scant public notice, federal immigration officials are relying on databases run by foreign police and militaries to check whether migrants crossing the United States border have gang affiliations, which would allow officials to detain and eventually deport them.

The information is being provided through a new “fusion” intelligence-gathering center in El Salvador that is funded by the State Department and works in tandem with the Homeland Security Department.

But legal experts and human rights advocates say the government has kept the use of databases at the border largely secret, subverting potential challenges to the reliability of the information in them. An attorney in Texas recently discovered that her Salvadoran client had been falsely accused of being in the MS-13 gang based on intelligence from the center. The man was jailed in a maximum-security facility for violent criminals for six months, and his two children were taken away.

Government attorneys, pressed repeatedly in court to provide evidence, eventually dropped the allegation of gang membership against him without explanation.

Officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to answer questions about the fusion center, including where and how often the gang intelligence is being used along the border and whether it has been the cause of other family separations.

The fusion center was created in May 2017 as part of a multinational initiative called Grupo Conjunto de Inteligencia Fronteriza, or GCIF, and funded through the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, which supports border security and police and military training programs in Central America as part of the U.S.-funded Central America Regional Security Initiative.

Very little is publicly known about the center, based in San Salvador, but in testimony before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee in January 2018, Richard H. Glenn, then an acting deputy assistant secretary of state in the bureau, said that several Salvadoran police officers had been sent to the border in McAllen, Texas, for eight months in 2017 to “conduct research and report information to DHS” and to “help DHS, state and local law enforcement identify, arrest or deny entry to gang members.”

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