Police departments on Long Island worked closely with Immigration and Customs Enforcement on arresting alleged gang members, according to emails surfaced in a new report.
The Nassau County and Suffolk County police departments have either denied or expressed reservations about working with ICE on combatting the gang MS-13 on Long Island, but the emails show that their officers have worked closely with the federal agency.
“It seems like a very open and constant line of communication between the agencies,” said Camille Mackler, director of Immigration Legal Policy at the New York Immigration Coalition author of the report. “It’s clear that on a lot of these sweeps that local law enforcement joined in, provided manpower, provided information, and they held onto people to be interrogated [by ICE].”
The report was compiled through Freedom Of Information Act requests that uncovered emails between local police departments and federal agencies. The report was exclusively shared with Documented.
The report, titled “When Help Is Nowhere to Be Found,” is focused on Operation Matador, which was launched by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations department in May 2017 to combat MS-13. According to the report, Operation Matador was initially envisioned as a 90-day effort but has since become a permanent operation.
MS-13 is a gang that was originated in Los Angeles in the 1980s by Salvadoran immigrants and later spread in El Salvador and Honduras. It has since grown into one of the world’s deadliest gangs and has an estimated 10,000 members in the U.S., concentrated in a handful of areas including New York. The Trump administration has made the gang a focus of its hardline immigration stance, arguing that tougher immigration measures would blunt the gang’s efforts.
Operation Matador was launched shortly after Trump assumed office and has since become ICE’s most high-profile ant-gang effort. According to the agency, 475 individuals have been arrested by ICE under the operation.
Unlike other elements of ICE, Homeland Security Investigations can perform criminal investigations. Operation Matador was purported to be focused on gang enforcement, however, NYIC’s report found that half the arrests were administrative immigration arrests.
In a December 2018 comment to Newsday, referred to in the emails, Suffolk County Police Department said it did not supply manpower for Operation Matador but did share intelligence. However, an October 2017 email to then Suffolk County Police Department Commissioner Timothy Sini stated that Operation Matador had netted 26 arrests including “non-gang members with an illegal immigration status and arrested for state charges.” The report also states that there were multiple emails between the Suffolk County Police Department and the HSI Operation Matador team that confirmed officers participated in Matador actions as late as September 2018.
In addition to that, a memo sent to Suffolk County Police Department officers instructed officers to contact ICE directly when entering potential gang members into a database as “they have the ability to instantly check a suspected MS-13 member’s immigration status and then take appropriate enforcement action.”
Suffolk County Police declined to comment as they had not seen the report.
Nassau County Police Department Commissioner Patrick Ryder told a local prosecutor that he preferred not to participate in Operation Matador because of its negative impact on community relations. However, he met with ICE shortly afterward and the emails appear to show that he reversed course. He ultimately sent officers in the fall of 2018 to be trained by ICE to participate in operations. There are email exchanges dating back to November 2017 that show Nassau County officers communicating with ICE on individual cases.
In a separate email exchange, one of the commissioner’s staffers appears to ask ICE about how many undocumented people and people in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, often referred to as Dreamers, there are in Nassau County.
“As per the Commissioners previous statement, the Nassau County Police Department has not taken part in Operation Matador due to the negative impact on our communities,” Detective Lieutenant Richard S. LeBrun told Documented. “We do interact and work cohesively on criminal investigations with ICE pertaining to drugs, prostitution, and robbery to just name a few as a matter of our course of business.”
However, even on ICE’s gang enforcement website, Nassau County and Suffolk County Police Departments are listed as partners in Operation Matador.
“In collaboration with our federal partners under DHS and with the incredible assistance provided by our local law enforcement partnerships, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) was able to identify, interdict, investigate and ultimately arrest hundreds of MS-13 gang members in and around Long Island, NY,” a spokesperson for ICE’s HSI said. “Together, HSI and our partners have significantly improved the quality of life for residences living in communities most adversely impacted by MS-13.”
According to Mackler, the police department’s work with ICE undermines community relations that could be helpful in combatting MS-13.
“Everybody cares about MS-13. I think the communities that are being targeted want to work with the authorities,” Mackler said. “And feel like they can’t because they don’t have that trust.”
There is also one email exchange between a New York City Police Department detective from the 109th Precinct in Flushing, Queens. The detective, whose name is redacted, agrees to send reports to a Special Agent on the Operation Matador task force.
The emails also reveal the interest in Operation Matador directly from the White House. In a July 2017 email between CBP agents, one notes that Operation Matador “is a high profile operation. The progress and results are being monitored by the President’s administration. Today POTUS is meeting with the participating personnel.”
However, not everyone welcomed the program. John Durham, a prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York, wrote in an email to the Federal Bureau of Investigations in May 2018 that “his head was exploding” because ICE and the Southern District of New York were forming a new task force to combat MS-13. Durham felt that the task force was duplicative with the existing Long Island Gang Task Force, which already included collaboration between ICE and the local police departments.
Durham was particularly aggrieved that ICE had solicited help from local police departments by sending out a notice stating that the Eastern District of New York was on board with Operation Matador, which Durham told the FBI and Commissioner Ryder that the office was not.