U.S. Rep. Peter King said Sunday the influx of young migrants arriving illegally from Central America has contributed to growing gang violence in Long Island.
“I know here in Long Island, talking to the police, that the numbers of MS-13 gang incidents have risen dramatically because of the number of these kids coming in,” King said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”
The Republican congressman from Seaford, elaborating on his comments made on the Fox program, later told Newsday he heard from officers with Nassau County police’s anti-gang unit last week about increased and more brutal MS-13 activity.
“They were talking even about the use of different weapons, like the machete,” said King, former chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. “They’re saying it’s back more than before.”
The gang members keep those weapons “down their back, so they can pull the machete right out in a manner of seconds,” he said.
“I hate to say it, but this is the environment that a lot of these kids grew up in,” King added of the unaccompanied minors fleeing gang and drug violence in Central America. “The kids up here, as tough as they may be — the kids are coming in are a lot tougher.”
King’s comments are typical among many political leaders, said Foster Maer, an attorney for the Manhattan-based advocacy group LatinoJustice.
“As far as I know it’s never true,” Maer said Sunday night of King’s statements. “First generation immigrants have the lowest crime rate of any demographic grouping. They know they’re in a country where they’re vulnerable. . . . Unfortunately statements like that encourage police to racially profile and engage in biased policing.”
In response to King’s comments on “Fox News Sunday” and to Newsday about Central American immigrants swelling street gang membership, Nassau County police chief spokesman Det. Lt. Richard Lebrun in a statement said the agency uses “data-driven intelligence,” investigates all reported gang activity, runs police youth academies and regularly attends gang awareness meetings at high schools “to combat the recruitment of these students.”
Lebrun said overall crime is down in Nassau.
Suffolk Deputy Police Commissioner Tim Sini said Sunday in response to King’s comments that the county has seen a “dramatic decrease” in violent crime over the past four years, but there has been gang activity over the past year.
“With all gangs, not just Latino ones, they prey on the weak and the young because they’re cowards,” Sini said when asked about migrant recruits. “They prey on someone who’s low-income, they prey on someone who doesn’t have strong parents in their lives, they prey on someone who’s struggling every day to make ends meet.”
Sini said his department runs gang-prevention programs for children as young as third-graders.
MS-13, formally known as Mara Salvatrucha, is targeting younger recruits more than ever before, according to an FBI gang profile. The loose network operates in at least 42 states with as many as 10,000 members who are mostly of Salvadoran descent but also include some with roots in Honduras, Guatemala and other countries, according to the FBI.
King said on Fox that
“the ones who have suffered the most” from gang violence “are the people living in the lower-income communities here in the United States.”
About 8,000 unaccompanied minors resettled in New York state between October 2013 and August 2015, with about 3,900 coming to Long Island, according to a previous Newsday story.
With Christine Chung