President Donald Trump said he has a message for violent gang members in the United States that he made clear during a speech Friday afternoon in Brentwood before an auditorium filled with local law enforcement: “We will find you, we will arrest you, we will jail you and we will deport you.”
Long Island has seen violence by the gang in recent months, including the killing of four young men in April in Central Islip and two teen girls last year in Brentwood.
“We cannot accept this violence one day more,” the president said.
Behind him dozens of law enforcement officers applauded, standing under signs that read “American heroes protecting American lives.”
“It is the policy of this administration to dismantle, decimate and eradicate MS-13,” Mr. Trump continued.
The North Fork has had signs of the gang’s activity in recent years. In October 2014, police arrested five men in connection with a Southold shooting in which alleged MS-13 members targeted members of a rival gang, police said. One victim was attacked with a machete, police said.
Earlier this year, the gang’s name was found written in pen on a bathroom at Tasker Park in Peconic, according to a police report.
MS-13, which is short for La Mara Salvatrucha is composed primarily of immigrants or their descendants from El Salvador, according to the federal Department of Justice.
Mr. Trump called for the end of sanctuary cities – where immigrant are promised “sanctuary” from federal officials – and said the country has been weak on enforcing immigration policy.
“Failure to enforce our immigration laws have predictable results: drugs, gangs and violence,” he said, adding that will change under the his administration. And he repeated a popular campaign promise and said the border wall between the United States and Mexico will be built.
The president thanked members of Immigration and Customs Enforcement for their increased efforts, which in the past six weeks has resulted in the arrests of nearly 1,400 persons and resulted in the recovery of illegal firearms and narcotics. He also thanked local law enforcement, saying “We have your backs.”
Before the president took the stage to chants of “USA! USA!” by the audience, acting ICE director Thomas Homan said gang members will not find safe harbor on Long Island. ICE’s efforts to target MS-13 would be successful because of partnerships between the federal, state and local levels of law enforcement.
“Let me be clear,” Mr. Homan said. “We will be relentless in our pursuit of every member, associate and leader of MS-13…We will target all of you.”
Congressman Peter King (R-Seaford) spoke before the president, telling law officials they have “no greater advocate” in the White House than Mr. Trump. Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) was also to travel to Long Island with the president on Friday, his office announced Thursday in a statement.
“The rise in gang violence, which is ruining lives, wreaking havoc, and causing irreparable and devastating harm to families, is hitting home in the most personal and tragic way in Suffolk County, where we’ve seen ongoing violence perpetrated by MS-13 and other Central American gangs taking innocent lives and threatening the safety of our schools,” Mr. Zeldin said in the statement. “I thank President Trump for making it a priority to travel to Long Island tomorrow to address the administration’s determined efforts to eradicate this violent street gang.”
Mr. Zeldin referenced the Central Islip killings, which MS-13 members have been charged with, and said the effort to end the rise in gang violence on the island needs to be an “all hands on deck mission” from all levels of government. He said that effort should include enforcement of immigration laws, along with international efforts to combat related criminal activity as well as local education efforts.
Protesters, both pro- and anti-Trump, lined up across the street from the Suffolk County Community College campus before the event. Some still lingered after the speech ended. On one side, pro-Trump protesters shouted, “Go home,”, while anti-Trump groups yelled back, “Let them in,” both chants referring to immigrants.
In a statement released after the speech, Mr. Zeldin said: “While some chose to line the streets and protest the President’s arrival with claims that his motives for coming were to ‘attack immigrants’, his words today proved that this was simply not true. This administration has taken a hard stance against gang activity, and it is imperative that we come together as one community in rejection of this violence which has claimed too many innocent lives.
“This President’s trip to our home was a sign that we have allies in this fight against evil; however, this is only the beginning. We must send a clear indication that gangs like MS-13 have no place here, and that we will never tolerate gang violence in our communities. It is our obligation to make eradicating this criminal organization a top priority.”
Southold Town police Chief Martin Flatley attended the speech. In a late-afternoon statement he said:
“The President’s remarks were directed at the MS-13 activity that Suffolk has been dealing with and the murders connected to their cases. The President spoke of supporting the police in their enforcement efforts against MS-13 and taking back the streets again from gangs such as this… Overall, it was an excellent experience to hear a speech from the President of the United States. I was also fortunate enough to hear President Obama deliver a speech at an International Association of Chiefs of Police conference that I attended several years ago.”
Top photo caption: President Trump speaks Friday in Brentwood on gang violence. (Credit: Kelly Zegers)