New Jersey: 33 arrested in ICE “gang” raids

On Nov. 18, ICE agents arrested 33 people in the New Jersey towns of Butler (Morris County) and Bloomingdale (Passaic County) in a sweep targeting people whom local police suspect have been taking part in gang activity, according to ICE spokesperson Harold Ort. ICE identified 12 of the 33 people arrested as violent gang members, six of whom have criminal records in New Jersey, Ort said. The gang members belong to the Mexican Latin Kings and Sureno 13, said Ort. The 31 men and two women arrested were sent to county jails in Middlesex, Hudson and Essex counties; ICE spokesperson Michael Gilhooly said that ICE may decide to transfer them to jails in other states. All those arrested will go before an immigration judge for removal proceedings, Gilhooly said.

“These numbers reveal that about a third of the arrests were [of alleged] gang members, and presumably the [other people arrested] were swept up in dragnets,” said Bassina Farbenblum, an attorney with Seton Hall Law School’s Center for Social Justice. “The fact that they are labeled by ICE as gang members doesn’t necessarily mean they are gang members,” she said.

“The government has not been forthcoming with information about the raids or the policies underlying them,” said Farbenblum. “We’ve heard so many reports of unconstitutional practices…. The public has a right to know how [the raids] are being conducted, what the priorities are, whether they’re relying on accurate data or whether this is just a waste of resources.” The Seton Hall Center for Social Justice filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in December 2007, asking ICE for information pertinent to New Jersey immigration arrests dating back to 2006.

Ort said ICE and local agencies spent more than two months investigating the targeted individuals, including doing surveillance. Ort admitted that none of the suspects committed crimes during that period, and none were picked up on arrest warrants. Authorities seized $10,000 in the sweep, as well as photographs and cell phone images of suspects flashing gang signs, said Ort.

Pastor Steven Bechtold of the Butler United Methodist Church said two of the people arrested in the raids—a man and a woman—are members of his congregation. “Both people are active church attenders who come to worship every week,” Bechtold said. “They are active in our Bible study group. They volunteer around the church—sometimes it’s doing outside lawn work, washing dishes for dinners. We had very positive experiences.” (Star Ledger, Newark, Nov. 20)

From Immigration News Briefs, Nov. 22

See our last posts on the politics of immigration and the struggle in New Jersey.