Hannah Dreier, an investigative reporter at ProPublica, recently wrote an article about a Long Island high school student named Alex who was suspended from school and later deported for alleged gang activity. Alex had doodled the telephone country code of his native Honduras in pencil on a school calculator in math class. He also had drawn a devil with horns, which is a symbol of the MS-13 gang. A devil with horns is also the mascot of the high school Alex attended.
Alex was in the United States legally seeking asylum from gang persecution in Honduras when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested him. Dreier’s article is available online here or here. It explores how, to paraphrase one of its headlines, the Trump administration’s crackdown on gangs has led to deportation of innocent high school students and destroyed their hopes for finding a new life in the United States.
So-called school resource officers – police officers who work inside schools – facilitate these deportations. Privacy laws bar public schools from sharing most information about their students. But school resource officers often share disciplinary information or tips they receive from faculty and staff members with their police departments. The departments enter this information into their gang databases and many share their databases with immigration agents. Though the information is often unreliable, ICE uses it to identify and deport suspected gang members, or “gang associates.”
Since publication of Dreier’s article, the school district where Alex was a student is seeking to curb the duties of its school resource officers. Such officers rarely speak Spanish and they often lack the training needed to understand the difference between a teenager who might draw something innocently and an actual gang member. The school district wants to prevent the deportation of another Alex.
One section of Dreier’s article sums up the history of MS-13, which Salvadoran immigrants founded in Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s. For more on the gang’s history, check out this MS-13 explainer by Vox and this 2005 Los Angeles Times story that examined how a U.S. deportation policy helped spread MS-13 across Central America in the 1990s and back into the United States.