Rule puts dan­ger­ous youths onto U.S. streets

MS-13 ex­ploits gap­ing loop­hole

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN

If the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion had its way, Ra­mon Arevalo Lopez and Os­car Canales Molina would have been ei­ther in de­ten­tion or de­ported.

In­stead, they were out on the streets — thanks to judges’ or­ders — where, ac­cord­ing to po­lice, they and an­other il­le­gal im­mi­grant de­liv­ered an MS-13 gang beat-down to two high school stu­dents in New York.

All three of the il­le­gal im­mi­grants en­tered the U.S. in 2016 as un­ac­com­pa­nied alien chil­dren, mean­ing they crossed the bor­der with­out par­ents — a sta­tus that earned them a quick re­lease into the coun­try, where they were quickly re­united with their fam­ily and be­gan to live while await­ing de­por­ta­tions that never came.

For Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment of­fi­cials, it’s the lat­est sign of a le­gal sys­tem that stymies their ef­forts to oust dan­ger­ous fig­ures.

“One of the loop­holes we are

im­plor­ing Congress to close could have pre­vented this grue­some at­tack,” said Katie Wald­man, a Home­land Se­cu­rity spokes­woman.

The three il­le­gal im­mi­grants got into a melee out­side a Burger King in Hunt­ing­ton Sta­tion, New York, one af­ter­noon last week. One of the teens was stabbed in the back, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal news re­ports.

Au­thor­i­ties didn’t have a spe­cific mo­tive for the at­tack but said the vic­tims were in­side eat­ing, saw the boys they knew from high school giv­ing them men­ac­ing looks, and de­cided to leave.

The three il­le­gal im­mi­grants were found later with blood­stained hands and clothes, and their names popped up as MS-13 mem­bers in a check of a gan­grecords data­base.

Why they were in the coun­try and out on the streets that day is one of the more bizarre twists of U.S. le­gal pol­icy on il­le­gal im­mi­grants.

Mr. Arevalo Lopez showed up at a Cal­i­for­nia bor­der cross­ing three months shy of his 18th birth­day in De­cem­ber 2016, dur­ing the sec­ond ma­jor wave of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion un­der Pres­i­dent Obama.

Un­der the Traf­fick­ing Vic­tims Pro­tec­tion Reau­tho­riza­tion Act and a Clin­ton-era court set­tle­ment, the Flores agree­ment, un­ac­com­pa­nied chil­dren trav­el­ing with­out par­ents are re­quired to be pro­cessed by im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties and quickly re­leased to so­cial work­ers, and from there to spon­sors.

They are deemed un­ac­com­pa­nied even if they have fam­ily in the U.S., which Mr. Arevalo Lopez did. His mother and her part­ner, as well as a brother, lived in New York.

Un­der the law, Mr. Arevalo Lopez was quickly sent to live with them while his im­mi­gra­tion case was pend­ing. Thanks to a mas­sive back­log in the im­mi­gra­tion courts, his next court date is still more than two years ago.

He was an 18-year-old fresh­man at the lo­cal pub­lic school — at a time when most 18-year-olds are ei­ther se­niors or in col­lege.

Suf­folk County has be­come a hot­bed for His­panic gangs in re­cent years, ri­val­ing the Washington, D.C., area for homi­cides and ex­tor­tion re­lated to MS-13.

At some point, au­thor­i­ties say, Mr. Arevalo Lopez be­came in­volved with MS-13 — whether that hap­pened be­fore he ar­rived or whether he was re­cruited in the area. Au­thor­i­ties say both op­tions are com­mon, with the gang some­times seek­ing to get mem­bers in the U.S. by hav­ing them pose as un­ac­com­pa­nied alien chil­dren, while those al­ready in the U.S. make prime re­cruits.

Ten months af­ter his ar­rival in the U.S., Mr. Arevalo Lopez was ques­tioned and then ar­rested by U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment agents on sus­pi­cion of gang mem­ber­ship.

Af­ter sev­eral months in ICE cus­tody, at­tor­neys asked an im­mi­gra­tion judge to re­lease him on bond. When that was re­fused, the lawyers went to fed­eral dis­trict court.

In June a 95-year-old fed­eral judge — Robert W. Sweet, who has been sit­ting on the bench since the Carter ad­min­is­tra­tion — or­dered Mr. Arevalo Lopez re­leased, say­ing he had been held too long for a mi­nor.

Judge Sweet said even though Mr. Arevalo Lopez had long since turned 18, he was still to be pro­tected as an un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nor be­cause he was three months shy of that age when he was caught.

“A birth­day shall not re­sult in de­ten­tion,” he ruled.

Os­car Canales Molina, 17, was also or­dered re­leased by a fed­eral judge, in late 2017, ac­cord­ing to news re­ports.

He en­tered the U.S. by sneak­ing across the bor­der in July 2016.

No­beli Montes Zuniga, 20, sneaked across the bor­der three months ear­lier.

The im­mi­gra­tion courts are so backed up that Mr. Montes Zuniga’s next de­por­ta­tion hear­ing, like Mr. Arevalo Lopez’s, isn’t un­til 2021. Mr. Canales Molina doesn’t even have a hear­ing set.

All three are now charged with as­sault with in­tent to cause phys­i­cal harm, and ICE has placed de­tainer re­quests on them, mean­ing they are slated to be de­ported once they serve any sen­tences.

With­out those crim­i­nal charges, Ms. Wald­man said, un­ac­com­pa­nied alien chil­dren stand al­most no danger of be­ing de­ported, de­spite their il­le­gal sta­tus.

Of the 31,754 un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nors ap­pre­hended from El Sal­vador, Guatemala and Hon­duras in fis­cal year 2017 — when Mr. Arevalo Lopez was caught — some 98 per­cent are still in the U.S.

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