President Donald Trump announced a plan Wednesday to withhold American foreign aid from countries that do not sufficiently cooperate with the United States on immigration matters.
Speaking at a roundtable on New York’s Long Island to discuss the violent MS-13 gang, Trump said he is putting millions of dollars’ worth of foreign aid in the crosshairs.
“Despite all of the reports I hear, I don’t believe they’re helping us one bit,” Trump said. He said his plan is in the works and calls for deducting “a rather large amount of money” given to countries in Central America.
“We’re working on a plan to deduct a lot of the aid, because I happen to believe that it’s not so hard,” he said. “You know, they’ll let you think that they are trying to stop this. They’re not trying to stop it. I think they encourage people [to leave]. They don’t want the people that we’re getting in their country.”
White House officials did not respond to LifeZette’s request for further details of the plan.
Advocates for stricter immigration enforcement said foreign aid can be a power tool to leverage better cooperation. Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), told LifeZette that the United States could withhold a certain portion of aid based on a country’s performance on a set of criteria in the previous fiscal year.
“That’s the most likely way it would work,” she said. Targeting aid would “get the attention of these countries.”
But basing it solely on the number of illegal border crossings might not be the best metric. A more effective way to go about it, she said, would be to evaluate how well countries cooperate in the deportation process.
Some nations drag out deportations through delays in issuing travel documents and placing limits on charter flights back to their countries, Vaughn said.
She added that the United States should focus the aid it does give on programs designed to improve anti-gang activities and immigration enforcement.
At the conference, a number of government officials talked about the growing problem of MS-13 and how legal loopholes hamper their ability to enforce the law.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recalled using the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act to go after MS-13 gang members when he was U.S. attorney in Maryland in 2005.
“We had tremendous success for quite a few years,” he said. “But we found in recent years a resurgence of MS-13 in Maryland, the D.C. area, and it was fueled by illegal immigration, and particularly by the challenge of unaccompanied minor children.”
Under current law, illegal immigrants caught near the border within 14 days can be placed into “expedited” proceedings and sent home without seeing an immigration judge. But illegal immigrants from countries other than Mexico and Canada who are caught in America’s interior must see a judge even if they ask to go home.
Children who arrive without parents also must see a judge. Not only that, Rosenstein noted, but a consent decree signed by the federal government in 1997 prevents authorities from detaining minors for longer than 72 hours.
“Once those unaccompanied children are released into the community, even if they’re gang members, they will generally remain in the United States.”
Rosenstein said 6,000 unaccompanied minors each year fail to appear for court hearings. Some 90 percent of all removal orders issued to those youths come after their failure to appear.
But less than 4 percent of them actually get deported, Rosenstein said.
“Once those unaccompanied children are released into the community, even if they’re gang members, they will generally remain in the United States,” he said.
Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Thomas Homan said his agency has arrested 896 MS-13 members and associates in fiscal year 2017 and has deported almost 11,000 gang members since fiscal year 2016.
Just on Long Island, Homan said, ICE has arrested some 300 MS-13 gang members in the past year. More than 40 percent of those gang members came as unaccompanied minors, he added.
“It is a problem,” he said. “There is a connection. MS-13 terrorizes communities, and they commit violent crimes, as you said.”
Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, one of a number of local law enforcement officers who greeted Trump, estimated there are 500 MS-13 members in his county. The gang committed six murders in his area, he said. The assailants shot one victim in the face, one in the back of the head, and hacked four to death with machetes.
Three of the victims were 15 and another was 18, Ryder said.
Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan said the Department of Justice (DOJ) was “surging” prosecutors to U.S. attorney’s offices to help put away gang members who commit crimes, and sending prosecutors to the border to prosecute gang members for immigration violations.
Cronan added that the Justice Department also was working with authorities in Central America.
“We want these savages incapacitated before they try to cross over our borders,” he said. “We cannot and we will not permit our country to be a playground for MS-13 to pursue its murderous mission.”
Trump sounded a note of optimism about the prospect of persuading a polarized Congress to close loopholes that make enforcement harder.
“I’m seeing a willingness, even to a certain extent by the Democrats,” he said to Rosenstein. “They’re starting to come around, but it’s brutal. It’s brutal, as you know better than anybody. It’s a tough situation. We need the laws enhanced very substantially and very quickly.”