Good Morning. My name is Marissa Montes and I am the Co-Director of Loyola Law School’s Immigrant Justice Clinic, which provides free immigration legal services to the community of Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles. Through our work, we have integrated ourselves into the community, and have witnessed firsthand how over-policing, and the mislabeling of gang membership can severely impact an individual’s ability to gain legal immigration status.
For this reason, I am here to testify in support of AB 90, which would address the accuracy and fairness of CalGang and other shared gang databases. This bill not only addresses the concerns highlighted in the California State Auditor’s findings, but would also add safeguards to limit the misuse of information that unfairly targets immigrant and low income communities.
First, AB 90 would place a moratorium on the use of Calgang until the state audit concerns are addressed. The audit found that children younger than one year of age were entered and labeled as gang members, demonstrating either that individuals were being categorized by law enforcement based on family and community ties, or that the data entered was horribly inaccurate. This misinformation proves to be detrimental, as it was for our client, Mathias, a stellar community college student, who in the course of his green card interview was accused of gang involvement due to his older brother. Mathias, who only had one misdemeanor conviction for a non-gang related offense, had never been involved or gang affiliated. US Citizenship and Immigration Services had no access to any evidence regarding gang affiliation, except for inaccurate information collected through CalGang. Mathias’ case remains ongoing, but is an example of one of many young adults in his community who are similarly stigmatized as gang-affiliated.