President Donald Trump dropped in on one of America’s gang hotspots Friday and vowed to “dismantle, decimate and eradicate” the MS-13 gang.
Trump spoke in Brentwood on New York’s Long Island, an area where he noted that gang suspects have murdered 17 people since January 16.
“It is the policy of this administration to dismantle, decimate and eradicate MS-13 … They’re going to jails and they’re going back to their country, or they’re going back to their country, period,” he said. “One by one, we’re liberating our American towns.”
Trump said his administration is targeting gangs of all types but reserved most of his rhetoric for the Mara Salvatrucha 13 gang, which Central American immigrants formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s.
“We’re going to destroy the vile criminal cartel MS-13 and many other gangs,” he said. “But MS-13 is particularly violent. They don’t like shooting people because it’s too quick. It’s too fast … These are animals.”
Even as Trump was speaking, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials announced Friday that a federal immigration judge had ordered the deportation of suspected MS-13 gang member German Reyes-Benitez, who is wanted on attempted aggravated homicide charges in his native El Salvador.
Trump said ICE over the past six weeks completed the largest crackdown on gangs in history, arresting 1,400 gang suspects across the country, while seizing more than 200 firearms and nearly 600 pounds of drugs.
Joseph Kolb, who has studied the MS-13 gang and authored a report last year about its impact on Long Island, told LifeZette that the Trump administration has made strides in combating violence.
“There’s been significant progress that’s been made,” he said. “Law enforcement has been able to do its job, not only specific arrests but also eradicating the gang in recent major sweeps.”
But Kolb said he remains concerned that the Office of Refugee Resettlement has continued the policy of the Obama administration of taking unaccompanied minors who show up at the U.S.-Mexico border and placing them with relatives in the United States until immigration courts adjudicate their cases. The office conducts minimal follow-up and loses track of a large number of those youths, he said.
“We will find you, we will arrest you, we will jail you, and we will deport you.”
Kolb pointed to statistics indicating that the office placed 962 Central American youths in New York’s Suffolk County from October 1 through the end of June. Most have been concentrated in the Brentwood-Central Islip area, he said. Neighboring Nassau County has received 686 Central American minors, with a concentration in the Hempstead-Freeport corridor.
“We may potentially be filling up one hole and another one leaks,” he said. “Every one of these kids [is] vulnerable to be recruited or victimized.”
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said ICE is moving aggressively now that the Trump administration has lifted Obama-era restrictions.
“I’m very encouraged that they’re making this a big priority,” she said.
Vaughan said that during the George W. Bush administration, ICE targeted known gang members living without permission in America even if they had not been convicted of crimes. She said that after Obama narrowed deportation criteria, federal law enforcement agents often removed gang members indirectly by investigating their parents for offenses such as identity theft and using fake Social Security numbers.
In the second Obama term, supervisors generally did not allow ICE to pursue deportations for non-violent crimes.
That has changed, Vaughan said. She said it is far more effective to deport gang members who are in the country illegally, rather than having to “wait for them to commit a serious crime and hope that they get convicted of it.”
Trump linked the gang problem to his immigration polices, generally. He repeated his vow to build a border wall and called for Congress to pass a spending bill that includes funds to hire 10,000 more ICE officers and hundreds more federal prosecutors and immigration judges. He noted that ICE currently has fewer than 6,000 enforcement and removal officers.
“This is not enough to protect a nation of more than 320 million people,” he said.
Meanwhile, Trump said, gangbangers should be afraid.
“We will find you, we will arrest you, we will jail you, and we will deport you,” he said.