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Trump Administration Accused Of Falsely Saying Immigrant Teens Have Gang Ties

President Donald Trump speaks to law enforcement officials on the street gang MS-13, July 28 in Brentwood, N.Y.

The ACLU has filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that the Trump administration is falsely accusing immigrant teens of gang affiliations in a concerted effort to deport them.

The American Civil Liberties Union says the federal government is illegally detaining immigrant teens from Suffolk County, N.Y., in "jail-like facilities," based on unsubstantiated claims that they are members of transnational street gangs.

The civil rights group also says the young immigrants were detained without notice to their parents or lawyers, and without giving them a chance to challenge the allegations.

According to the lawsuit, the Latino teens are being "profiled as gang members based on the neighborhoods they live in and their countries of origin."

"We're talking about teens who were picked up for play-fighting with a friend, or for showing pride in their home country of El Salvador," Stephen Kang, an attorney with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, said in a statement. "The Office of Refugee Resettlement is accepting wholesale that young immigrants should be kept behind bars because of what they look like or where they come from."

The lawsuit names Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement.

"During the Attorney General's visit to El Salvador, he repeatedly heard of efforts by MS-13 and other transnational gangs to prey on and recruit children as young as eight years old," Devin M. O'Malley with the Department of Justice said in an email. "We will absolutely defend the President's lawful authority to keep Americans safe and protect communities from gang violence."

A spokesman with Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing the pending litigation.

President Trump gave a speech in Suffolk County last month about his administration's crackdown on MS-13 gang members. MS-13 started in California and spread across the country, especially as gang members were deported to El Salvador and came back across the border into the U.S.

In interviews with NPR, local and federal officials have stood behind their enforcement efforts.

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