President Donald Trump will travel on Friday to a New York state community shocked by a recent spate of graphic gang murders to highlight his efforts to stop illegal immigration and boost deportations.
Trump will highlight his administration’s push to deport members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, better known as MS-13, the existence of which his White House blames on lax enforcement of illegal immigration from Central America.
“It’s going to be a very forceful message about just how menacing this threat is, and just how much pain is inflicted on American communities,” a senior administration official told reporters ahead of the trip.
Trump’s visit comes as his Attorney General Jeff Sessions traveled to El Salvador to highlight progress on the gang crackdown.
The Republican president has previously praised Sessions for his focus on gangs, but lately has publicly expressed disappointment with him in relation to investigations into Trump’s election campaign and Russia, raising questions about how long Sessions will remain in the job.
The MS-13 gang took root in Los Angeles in the 1980s in neighborhoods populated with immigrants from El Salvador who had fled the civil war there. The Justice Department has said MS-13 now has more than 10,000 members across the United States.
In Brentwood – about 30 miles east of the New York City boro of Queens where Trump grew up – MS-13 was behind the murders of two teenage girls last September and four young men in a park in April, authorities said.
There have been 17 murders on Long Island tied to the gang since January 2016, the Suffolk County Police Department has said.
Under Trump, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has targeted the gang, deporting more than 2,700 criminal gang members in fiscal 2017, up from 2,057 in the whole of the previous fiscal year, the White House has said.
“We are throwing MS-13 … out of here so fast,” Trump said earlier this week at a rally in Ohio.
Trump made concerns about illegal immigration a centerpiece of his presidential campaign.
In his speech Friday, Trump will urge Congress to appropriate more money for immigration agents and judges, and to give them more authority to quickly deport people from Central America who cross the border illegally, the senior administration official told reporters.
His administration is now taking a harder line on Central American youth who have crossed the border illegally without guardians – a group that law enforcement says has been targeted for recruitment by MS-13.
Immigration agents plan to target teenagers who are suspected gang members, even if they are not charged with any crime, according to a memo seen by Reuters.
But civil-rights groups say police and immigration agents have unfairly targeted some teenagers.
“We received complaints in recent weeks from terrified parents on Long Island that teens have already been detained on the thinnest of rationales, such as wearing a basketball jersey,” said Sebastian Krueger from the New York Civil Liberties Union.
There have been at least two lawsuits filed by people claiming they were mistakenly included in gang databases and then targeted for deportation, said Paromita Shah, of the National Immigration Project at the National Lawyers Guild.
At a United Nations briefing in Geneva on Friday, Joel Millman, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, said Trump’s get-tough approach meant more immigrants were seeking riskier, deadlier ways to reach the United States.
“Barriers and tougher crossing obstacles funnel more migration into the irregular channels and fatten the profits of criminal gangs,” Millman said.