As he sat down for an interview with Time magazine for his “person of the year” profile, Donald Trump explained his tough view on illegal immigration by retrieving a copy of the Long Island newspaper Newsday and pointing to a blaring headline: “Extremely Violent Gang Faction.”
The article focused on the killings of five teenagers from the same New York City suburb and suspicions that the slayings were the work of a street gang, MS-13, that has roots in El Salvador and has been linked to at least 30 killings on Long Island since 2010.
“They come from Central America. They’re tougher than any people you’ve ever met,” Trump told the magazine. “They’re killing … everybody out there. They’re illegal. And they are finished.”
That tough talk was welcomed — and created new worries — in the suburban community plagued by the gang violence.
Just months ago, advocates for immigrants were lamenting publicly that a string of disappearances of Hispanic high school students in Brentwood, New York, hadn’t gotten enough attention from authorities while they were happening.
Now, they are worried that the president-elect’s attention will mean a crackdown that goes far beyond gangs.
“It’s not a good thing,” said Maryann Sinclair Slutsky, executive director of the immigrant advocacy group Long Island Wins. “I don’t know why he’s picking Long Island. The entire immigrant community is terrified. All immigrants in that community feel uncomfortable. There’s profiling going on and whether they are totally upstanding citizens, they are going to feel targeted in some way.”
Gang-related violence in Brentwood got renewed attention in September when best friends Nisa Mickens, 15, and Kayla Cuevas, 16, were found beaten to death in a residential neighborhood near an elementary school.
Within a few weeks, the skeletal remains of three other Brentwood teens were found hidden in secluded areas of the hamlet. Miguel Garcia-Moran, 15, disappeared in February. Oscar Acosta, 19, was reported missing in May. Jose Pena-Hernandez, 18, vanished in June.
Police suspect all the killings were committed by members of local offshoots of the MS-13 street gang, which has already left a trail of corpses on Long Island.
Some of the people accused in those crimes were in the U.S. illegally.
In one of the most heinous killings, in 2010, three teenage MS-13 members shot a 19-year-old woman and her 2-year-old son in the woods over an imagined slight of the gang’s honor. Two were El Salvadoran citizens who were illegally in the U.S. at the time they killed the pair, as was Heriberto Martinez, the MS-13 leader convicted of authorizing the murders. Another of the killers was a U.S. citizen.
In July, four MS-13 members were charged with killing four men in Brentwood and neighboring Central Islip between 2013 and 2015. Two of them were citizens of El Salvador. One had illegally re-entered the U.S. after previously being deported. A second was in proceedings to be deported.
Suffolk County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco, whose office is involved in the probe of this year’s killings in Brentwood, said there is “no question” that gangs were recruiting young immigrants who had crossed into the U.S. without authorization. Brentwood, he said, “is becoming a border town.”
“I don’t think anyone would argue with the president-elect and Homeland Security [about] removing criminal alien gang members from the streets of Brentwood. I think the residents of Brentwood deserve it,” DeMarco said.
Trump has called for increased border security and deportations of undocumented immigrants with criminal records, but he hasn’t unveiled specific details yet on his plan.
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said as part of a local law enforcement crackdown on the gang, six MS-13 members have been taken into federal custody and are expected to be charged under racketeering statutes. More than 50 others have been charged in state courts.
Sini won’t identify any of the more than four dozen suspects, or say what they did. He insists the sweeps have resulted in a drop in violent crime.
He wouldn’t comment on Trump’s remarks.