Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic Co-Director Testifies before State Assembly Committee

On Tuesday, April 18, 2017, Loyola Immigrant Justice Clinic Co-Director Marissa Montes '12 testified before a California State Assembly committee about the use of gang databases in the state.

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.

Second, AB 90 would prohibit the sharing of information with any federal agency. In the case of Mathias, information from CalGang was actively shared with USCIS.  Many more incidents have involved other federal agencies accessing CalGang to wrongfully target immigrants for enforcement.  The current federal administration has been extremely vocal in prioritizing for deportation anyone who can be construed to be gang affiliated or pose a threat to public safety. ICE heavily relies on the sharing of information between state and any federal agencies to target immigrants, such as the FBI, DOJ and DOL. Unlike SB 505 that only limits sharing with immigration authorities, AB 90 would prohibit the sharing of information between all federal agencies, such as the FBI and ICE, to ensure that inaccurate information does not result in wrongful removals.  

Third, AB 90 would ensure a two-year automatic purge from Calgang of any individual who has not had contact with law enforcement. Based on the sample from the audit, more than 600 individuals had purge dates exceeding the five-year limit, many of whom were not scheduled to be purged for more than 100 years. A two-year purge would not only ensure increased accuracy, and minimize the overbroad profiling of the immigrant community as gang-affiliated, but would also provide the opportunity for individuals to become better integrated into the community. For example, my client Jacob, suffered a traumatic childhood that pushed him into a gang at the age of 12 for protection. By the age of 14, he denounced his gang to focus on school, work and caring for his family. This is in line with numerous research studies that have revealed that people overwhelmingly remain gang involved for between one and two years. Despite his transformation, Jacob was precluded from seeking DACA due to his inclusion in CalGang.

Lastly, AB 90 would create an oversight committee composed of law enforcement and community leaders to ensure the proper administration of CalGang and other shared gang databases.  As the audit findings clearly indicate, the lack of proper oversight over shared gang databases has led to a (1) misuse of law enforcement resources, (2) lessened law enforcement fairness in administrating justice and has (3) severely impacted low income communities’ ability to access benefits, not limited to immigration. A diverse oversight committee is needed, not only for accountability purposes, but also for repairing community relations with local law enforcement.

For these reasons, I stand in support of AB 90 and ask for your support too. 

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