Immigrant Advocates Fighting to Keep State Gang Database Away From Trump

With President-elect Donald J. Trump just weeks from taking office, legal experts and advocates in California are scrambling to convince state Attorney General Kamala Harris to block federal access to the state’s controversial gang database out of fears that the Trump administration will use it to deport unauthorized immigrants who’ve been erroneously labeled as gang members.

A highly critical report released earlier this year by the California State Auditor showed that as a result of “weak oversight,” the CalGang database contains questionable information that may violate the privacy rights of individuals in the database.

Among other things, auditors found that in some cases law enforcement agencies put individuals in the database without adequate evidence, failed to purge CalGang records that had not been updated within five years, and poorly implemented a state law requiring that juveniles and their parents are notified before the minor is placed in the database.

Until the report’s recommendations are implemented, organizations such as the Urban Peace Institute in Los Angeles and the ACLU of Southern California are calling for a moratorium on the use of the database until the auditor’s recommendations are implemented, and are asking Harris to cancel a California Department of Justice agreement that allows federal immigration enforcement agents to search the CalGang database.

‘Until the Department of Justice can assure people that there is accuracy and that there are no harms to being put in the database…basically the plug should be pulled on CalGang until those things happen because the risk of the database being used in immigration is just too high to allow it to continue right now,” said Sean Garcia-Leys, a staff attorney at the Urban Peace Institute, which works to reduce and prevent community violence.

In an emailed response to a reporter, Harris’ office did not answer questions regarding whether she would address the request for the moratorium on CalGang or the cancelation of the agreement between the state and federal immigration authorities.

A New ‘Deporter-in-Chief’

Trump has backed away from his campaign pledge to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants estimated to be in the United States. But in a 60 Minutes television interview shortly after his election, he vowed to immediately deport as many as three million undocumented immigrants, specifically those with criminal records such as gang members and drug dealers.

Some immigration attorneys fear that existing deportation policies under President Barack Obama, whom critics have dubbed the “deporter-in-chief” for the record number of deportations during his presidency, will expand under Trump to include more immigrants who have committed low-level offenses.

For example, an 87 percent increase in the deportation of “convicted criminals” between 2008 and 2014 was largely due to the government’s overly broad classification of criminal behavior, which included major increases in individuals with traffic or immigration violations, according to a detailed analysis of deportation data by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a data gathering research center at Syracuse University.

“I know there has been a lot of criticism, which has been warranted on the Obama administration’s deportation and immigration enforcement track record, but I think unfortunately it can get much, much worse,” said Jennifer Koh, a law professor and immigration clinic director at Western State College of Law in Irvine.

California’s Trust Act prohibits local law enforcement from detaining an individual who is eligible for release from custody on a federal immigration hold, unless the individual has been convicted of a serious crime. Immigrant advocates have praised the law, which went into effect in 2014, for curtailing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) programs that deported thousands of California immigrants for minor offenses.

How the Trump administration will define a “criminal immigrant” remains unclear, said Koh. She’s concerned the definition may include anyone who has ever been arrested of any crime at any point, been suspected of gang membership or of being a danger to society.

“It all springs from how the administration as a policy matter chooses to define who it thinks is a priority. And all signals indicate that the Trump administration is going to define that with a far wider net than the Obama administration ever did,” Koh said.

In media reports, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has advised Trump on immigration matters and is speculated to be a potential pick for Secretary of Homeland Security, has said that the definition of a deportable offense would need to broaden under the Trump administration to include any felony, and possibly individuals who have been arrested but not convicted of crimes.

There are cases when an individual may not be convicted, but is a known gang member and “we ought to get him out of the country” Kobach told CNN last month.

Errors and Bias

But as researchers have discovered, determining who is a documented gang member is a process that is not only subjective, but also prone to human error and bias. This has led gang experts to question the reliability of information obtained by federal immigration authorities who tap into the CalGang database or other state-level gang databases to determine who is a gang member, affiliate or associate.

“There are definitely concerns considering that we already know from previous research and the CalGang audit, for example, that getting into this database or becoming labeled as a gang member can be highly speculative, and it’s done according to a process that is not particularly rigorous,” said Ana Muñiz, an assistant professor of criminology, law and society at the University of California, Irvine.

Muñiz cited one example from the CalGang audit of several instances where individuals were labeled as gang members in the database with no evidence.

“I think it’s very concerning that someone could, on a very low threshold of proof, be put into one of these databases as a gang member and have it affect so much of their life. And the concern now, obviously, is that this could affect their ability to stay in the country,” said Muñiz, an expert on gang injunctions and author of the 2015 book “Power, Police and the Production of Racial Boundaries.”

CalGang is supposed to be used by police as a source and investigatory tool to track youth and adults alleged to be gang members. The state requires that in order for a law enforcement officer to enter an individual into the database, at least two of 10 criteria must be met. Those include a gang membership admission or if an individual is arrested with known gang members for offenses that are “consistent with gang activity.”

Other criteria include wearing “gang dress” or having gang tattoos, as well as frequenting gang areas. Civil rights and defense attorneys say such criteria are subjective and can lead to misclassification and racial profiling of youth of color based on how they look and where they live.

Due process concerns come into play when these documents alleging gang membership are shared via the database with federal agents and prosecutors because the allegations are unproven and have not been challenged in court, said Garcia-Leys, who also cited examples where police officers have directly emailed gang allegations to immigration officers.

“So the gang allegations that are being made by police officers for investigatory purposes are ending up in immigration proceedings improperly without people having a chance to question them, which is against the spirit and the policies of the databases that record these investigatory documents,” said Garcia-Leys, who specializes in gang databases and gang injunctions at the Urban Peace Institute.

Most concerning, said Garcia-Leys, is the state audit found there is no consistency within the database and thus no sense of the overall scope of the problems raised in the audit. Consider, he said, that in some cases the database identified an individual as a self-admitted gang member when in fact the opposite was true – the person had denied being a gang member.

“So if Trump were to start moving, like he says he’s going to, to deport as many people he can find who are alleged gang members, there’s going to be a lot of people who are not actually gang members who are going to end up being deported” Garcia-Leys said. “And there’s no guarantee that they are going to have adequate protection to make sure that the gang members and the non-gang members are differentiated.”

Gang members have long been a priority for ICE, and Obama likewise emphasized targeting gang members for deportation. In 2014, when the president announced his plans to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, he made it clear that immigration authorities would continue to zero in on threats to the nation’s security.

In Obama’s words, his priorities were “Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mom who’s working hard to provide for her kids.”

DACA doesn’t grant legal status, but allows immigrants who arrived as children to the United States and meet certain requirements to request a temporary two-year reprieve from deportation as well as the authorization to work. The DACA form from United States Citizenship and Immigration Services specifically asks each applicant whether he or she is “now” or “ever” has been a member of a gang.

On Jan. 1, 2017, a new California law will allow adults to contact their local law enforcement agency to determine if they are on the CalGang database, and to challenge their inclusion on the list. But while the law provides more transparency, it does not address the flaws exposed by the state audit because the law was crafted before the report was released, said Garcia-Leys.

His hope is that either the California Legislature or Harris (who will leave office to become one of California’s senators on Jan. 3) might take action before Trump is inaugurated to address the database concerns; or that individual law enforcement agencies choose to stop participating in CalGang. Garcia-Leys cited Minnesota as an example of a state that ceased use of its gang database because of privacy concerns, the risk of error and other issues.

While the state auditor recommended providing better oversight of CalGang as well as clear lines of authority and responsibility, unless the California legislature or the state attorney take action, these recommendations can’t be enforced, said Peter Bibring, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California and director of police practices for the ACLU of California.

Until these flaws are addressed, the attorney general should call for an immediate moratorium on the use of the database, including blocking access to ICE, Bibring said.

“The potential use of the database by immigration authorities to identify people to be deported is the most egregious harm that could come from reliance on the flawed information,” he said.

Had the CalGang database been used as originally intended by its designers, as an investigatory tool, the inaccuracies exposed by the audit and the potential harm caused by these errors would be limited to the investigations conducted before criminal charges are filed, said Garcia-Leys.

“But what we know is that as these database networks have expanded, as more and more agencies have become connected electronically to these documents, that there are increasing harms and they have been most obvious in the immigration context,” said Garcia-Leys. “And this is an area that could be exploited by a Trump Administration looking for ways to justify deporting as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.”

Yvette Cabrera is a long-time Orange County journalist and Voice of OC contributing writer. You can reach her directly at

  • 0_0

    If anyone’s illegally here they need to be deported. It is the law and the law isn’t “broken”. It just isn’t enforced.

  • Larry Evans

    Being here illegally and being in a gang is close enough for me.

    Deport them ASAP

  • JQR S

    They are mot unauthorized immigrants, They are illegal aliens who have migrated into this country knowing that they are violating long established immigration laws.

    Deport them………..Immediately.

  • Bob Stevens

    Yes… Im sure with everything else going on in the country, somewhere between running the White House and his foreign policy meetings he’s really worried about gang members in California. It’s amazing how f_cking stupid people can be.

  • LiberalFascist

    Now you people are going to accept both criminal and civil liabilities for any crimes or other actions committed by these gang members correct?
    You are, afterall, willing to put innocent civilians in the line of fire for political correctness so you will accept reaponsibility for your actions correct?
    Your not going to hide after someone gets murdered, or some child gets raped saying … Well we are not responsible, we were only trying to protect innocent gang members with multiple felony convictions from being deported from the Nation they should not have been in to begin with.
    Since we all know the answer to this, it is my sincerest hope that the father of the first victim of this lunacy walks into the office with a flamethrower (not considered a weapon by the ATF) and holds you accountable as you should be.

  • hanginout

    OK… how about some common sense.
    First, the number of non-gang members in this data base is likely minimal. Second, if they are not gang members and on the list, they are still criminals as they broke the law by coming here. They may not be a priority, but don’t say they have not violated the law.
    People are tired of the attempts to parse every little group of people that have come here illegally. Whatever the method. Whatever the reason. They have broken our laws. Period.

  • Rommel

    It’s just too rich when the VOC is petitioning people in elected public office to turn their backs on their statutory responsibilities while simultaneously soliciting donations to “hold people in power accountable”.
    But there is nothing new about the patients running the asylum in California.

    • LFOldTimer

      It’s sickening. Isn’t it?

  • AZXyb

    I always knew those who advocate for unlawfully present illegal aliens are morally and ethically impaired, and have no respect for law – just like those whom they champion. But to try to protect gang members and keep them from being deported to their own countries is worse – beyond anything previously imagined. Relying on the “perfection veto” is oh, so typical. Can’t use anything against the lawless if any errors have ever occurred. Only PERFECT sysrem may be employed. How about denying all welfare, assistance, WIC, to them, because you have to know that errors have been made in the past and some freebies were doled out to persons who really did not qualify? How about denying visas to all applicants, seeing that perfection does not exist on this Earth?
    All illegal aliens should be repatriated, having no right to be in this sovereign nation, and having demonstrated their contempt for our sovereignty, our laws and our national security. Hand members and other criminals should head the list of those to be deported. No nation should tolerate the presence of another nation’s criminals. Every nation has them, and very nation must take the responsibility for dealing with its own.
    Trying to keep the lists of gang members, who should have been fast-tracked for deportation long ago, regardless of how kind they are to their mothers, from those who have the authority to deport them is beyond irresponsible – it’s downright evil.

    • LFOldTimer

      I agree wholeheartedly, AZXyb.

      Those who wants to protect illegal alien criminal gang banger terrorists from being deported are unamerican and an embarrassment to the nation. That’s about as low as it gets.

  • LFOldTimer

    Those of you who would take the time to investigate the “Deporter-In-Chief” title given to Obama would find it was nothing but a hoax to make Obama appear to tough on illegal immigration when nothing could be further from the truth. Pure media propaganda.

    In his first term, Obama “hyper-inflated” the deportation rate by manipulating one key piece of data. He started counting “same-day” deportations of Mexicans which prior administrations did not count as deportations. “Same-day” meant those caught at the border and given a “turn-around” back into Mexico on the same day they were caught. Illegals caught in the interior of the US and deported fell drastically under Obama.

    Think about it. Obama sued Arizona for their SB1070 law that helped the Arizonans deal with the illegal immigration problem in their State that the Feds were not enforcing. Yet when the California legislators passed the “Trust Act” which basically said that local jailers were prohibited from cooperating with the Feds by transferring illegal jail inmates to Fed authorities for deportation unless they committed serious violent felonies – did Obama step in and sue California? Answer: No. So Arizona was not allowed to defend themselves against a porous border – yet California was allowed to defy Federal authorities by sabotaging US immigration laws.

    Why do you think the US Border Patrol union consistently voted “no confidence” in Obama and Obama’s appointed US BP Director? It’s because Obama implemented directives to tie the Border Patrol agent’s hands and impede them from doing their job.

    This lawlessness has gotten so far out of hand that Trump is now accused of being a tyrant for merely saying that he’s going to restore rule of law by sealing the border and enforcing our immigration laws – a basic right of any sovereign nation to protect it’s own citizens from intruders who illegally enter their land for taxpayer provided benefits and to steal jobs from the legal immigrants and citizens.

    Those cities and states that refuse to cooperate with Federal authorities to enforce any Federal laws, to include immigration laws, should have their Federal funds severed. Otherwise we live amongst sworn government anarchists who believe they can pick and choose which laws to obey and violate.

    So when you read articles on the topic of illegal immigration make sure you do your own research to uncover the ‘rest of the story’. Media distortion is widespread in 2016.

    • annomouse

      The information you’re parroting out World Nut Daily left out, distorted or lied about a few of the facts.

      FALSEHOOD #1
      “In his first term, Obama “hyper-inflated” the deportation rate by manipulating one key piece of data. He started counting “same-day” deportations of Mexicans which prior administrations did not count as deportations.”

      False, this was started in the last half of GW Bush’s term and continued by Obama.

      For the full picture, from the LATimes:

      “….Now, the vast majority of border crossers who are apprehended get fingerprinted and formally deported. The change began during the George W. Bush administration and accelerated under Obama. The policy stemmed in part from a desire to ensure that people who had crossed into the country illegally would have formal charges on their records.

      In the Obama years, all of the increase in deportations has involved people picked up within 100 miles of the border, most of whom have just recently crossed over. In 2013, almost two-thirds of deportations were in that category.

      At the same time, the administration largely ended immigration roundups at workplaces and shifted investigators into targeting business owners who illegally hired foreign workers.

      Many of those convictions are related to crossing the border — the other big consequence of the change in the way border removals are handled.

      A growing number of people caught trying to cross the border now have a formal deportation order on their records. Entering the country without legal authorization is not a crime. But once a person has been deported, he can be prosecuted if he reenters the country.

      The policy of deporting border crossers and then prosecuting people who reenter has increased the number of immigrants charged in federal court. In 1992, immigration offenses accounted for 5% of federal convictions….

      …In 2012, immigration offenses made up 30% of federal convictions, second only to drug cases, which made up one-third….”

      FALSEHOOD #2

      ” Illegals caught in the interior of the US and deported fell drastically under Obama.”

      They did fall from his first year, but that isn’t the full picture, from Politifact:

      “….A July report by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank founded by a group of Democratic and Republican senators, illustrated that switch.

      In 2008, about two-thirds of ICE’s 369,000 removals were from the interior, while the other third were from the border. That proportion started to change a couple of years ago and by 2014, about one-third of the agency’s 316,000 removals were from the interior while the other two-thirds were from the border.

      Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, wrote in a January blog post, that while interior removals have fallen in recent years under Obama, they remain high compared to former President George W. Bush. Looking at the last six years of the former president’s tenure, Nowrasteh said there were an average of 79,000 removed from the interior annually under Bush, compared with an average of 158,000 during the first six years of Obama’s term.”

      FALSEHOOD #3:
      “This lawlessness has gotten so far out of hand that Trump is now accused of being a tyrant for merely saying that he’s going to restore rule of law by sealing the border and enforcing our immigration laws ”

      Not quite so “lawless”, from the Washington Post:

      “…The total undocumented immigrant population of 10.9 million is the lowest since 2003, says the report from the Center for Migration Studies, a New York think tank. The number of undocumented immigrants has fallen each year since 2008, the report says, driven primarily by a steady decline in illegal migrants from Mexico…..

      …..Although the new report does not cite specific reasons for the decline, other experts have attributed it to a combination of tighter U.S. border security measures and economic and demographic changes in Mexico, such as women having fewer children….”

      TRUISM #1

      “So when you read articles on the topic of illegal immigration make sure you do your own research to uncover the ‘rest of the story’. Media distortion and omission is widespread in 2016. Seek and stick with the facts.”

      You need to take your own advice Old timer and not just rely on right-wing propaganda sites for ALL your ‘news’, lol.

      • LFOldTimer

        If you’re going to link the LA Times, PolitiFact and the Washington Post – you might as well link from the leftist rag Daily Kos. ha.

        Here are the FACTS coming from the mouth of Jeh Johnson who was an OBAMA APPOINTEE as Homeland Security Secretary. Straight from the horse’s mouth:

        “Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson acknowledged Tuesday that his department’s deportation numbers are now mostly made up of illegal immigrants caught at the border, not just those from the interior, which means they can’t be compared one-to-one with deportations under President Bush or other prior administrations”

        “Under the Obama administration, more than half of those removals that were attributed to ICE are actually a result of Border Patrol arrests that wouldn’t have been counted in prior administrations,” said Rep. John Culberson, Texas Republican.
        “Correct,” Mr. Johnson confirmed.”

        “In 2013, ICE was responsible for about 133,000 of the 368,000 immigrants removed. The Washington Times calculated that meant a less than 1 percent risk of an illegal immigrant living in the interior of the U.S. being deported.”

        To claim that the widespread problem of illegal immigration in America is not “lawlessness” would be the same claiming the sun rises in the west every morning. ha.

        The claims you post are the epitome of silliness.

        • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

          Jeh Johnson. What does he know?
          Horse’s mouth is so overrated.

          • LFOldTimer

            Heh. Absolutely. What would the Homeland Security Secretary know about statistics on deportations? Heh.

            But be patient. Maybe annomouse is browsing the fake news websites searching for a report that claims HSS Jeh Johnson (appointed by Obama) is really an operative working for Donald J. Trump. lol.

          • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

            AmmunitionMouse likes snopes. Snopes says “true” …

            Numbers do not include forced deportations of men, women, children from their villages because they were in the way of our frenemies Qatar and Saudi Arabia precious petrodollar pipeline.

            Nothing about US creating Syrian “revolution” and arming ISIS operatives with Fast and Furious: Middle East Edition by using our US taxpayer money to make them the Border Patrol there.

            Seven wars, seven countries bombed, 278B in weapons. Immense human suffering. None reported by main media.

            Oh, yes. Nobel.Peace.Prize. Yeah, that.

          • LFOldTimer

            Snopes? Even they know Obama’s a phony.

            Why doesn’t annomouse refute what Jeh Johnson said?

            No comment??? HAH!

          • BeeBee.BeeLeaves
          • LFOldTimer

            Hilarious. I don’t know how those fake news reporters have the courage to show their faces in public after Trump won by 36 electoral votes.

            I remember back in the day when journalism was actually considered one of the most ethical professions around. Seriously. If you were a journalist your word was as good as gold. Today it’s one of the least trusted professions.

            Gallup has been asking Americans whether they trust journalists for decades. In 1976 about 72% of Americans trusted journalists. Earlier this year Gallup found that only 32% of Americans trust journalists. Liars and frauds have destroyed the industry – bringing the trust factor down to the used car salesman level.

          • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

            Sadly so. I cancelled cable. Why pay for paid for lies? I now send monthly to WikiLeaks because they have perfect 10 year record of exposing truth. Lotta hackers and whistleblowers out there who want to see no more harm from corruption. In 2017, Voice, also.

            Hope Trump pardons Assange first thing in January. His sunlight disinfected. We dodged a bullet. See all these young’uns protesting and wish they fully understood they were all headed towards the promised “Long War” escalating in spring 2017 (like the Arab spring we created in 2011) and scheduled to calm down in 2020 in time for re-election, many dead in between.

            No wonder so many are happy Trump won in our isis patrol kill area. One Yazidi baby was named Trump. Yazidi women, children Hillarity? What.about.them?


          • LFOldTimer

            If Hillary doesn’t see the inside of an 8 x 10 cell – no way should Assange or Snowden.

            Snowden is a hero compared to Hillary.