One day after joining police, county and Islip Town officials before an overflow crowd seeking relief from MS-13 gang violence, Rep. Peter King got on the phone with U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and a representative of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
The discussions revolved around unaccompanied minors who crossed into the United States without documentation and later were placed with families or caregivers in Suffolk, and especially in Brentwood.
“I would say a disproportionately high number of unaccompanied minors have been put into the Brentwood and Central Islip communities, particularly Brentwood,” King (R-Seaford) said in an interview Wednesday. “I think, from talking to people at the federal level, there is reason to believe that MS-13 is coordinating a good bit of this, including whether or not families are encouraged to take kids or pressured to take kids.”
King got involved at the request of Suffolk police Commissioner Tim Sini, who, in an interview Wednesday said that intelligence police received information that MS-13 was exploiting the humanitarian program.
“They are threatening people, and they are very aware that children are coming through the program and they’re waiting on the other side to recruit them,” Sini said.
The program began in 2014, and Suffolk through the first two months of this year has ranked fifth in the nation in the number of unaccompanied minor placements. So far, 4,000 children have been placed in the county, said Sini.
“There is no question that the vast majority coming to Suffolk are law-abiding kids looking for a better life,” Sini said. “But there are also indications that a disproportionate number engaging in MS-13 activity have come from this program.”
Seven of those indicted in the slayings of Brentwood high school students Nisa Mickens, 15, and Kayla Cuevas, 16, and Jose Pena-Hernandez, 18, whose body was found in a wooded area near Pilgrim Psychiatric Center, come through the unaccompanied minors program, Sini said. So did one homicide victim, whom Sini declined to identify.
King said federal law enforcement officials are concerned about MS-13. “They’re telling me that almost as fast as we put them into jail, new ones are coming into the community. They’re coming in as kids who are 12, 13, 14 years old, who can recruit other kids and who can organize.”
King said he spent 15 minutes Wednesday talking to Sessions, who asked for something in writing that he could discuss with Homeland Security secretary John Kelly Thursday, when they are slated to visit the U.S. -Mexico border at El Paso, Texas.
King said Homeland Security, “gets these kids, and very quickly hands them off to Health and Human services, and then HHS places them around the country. Should Homeland Security hold these kids longer to do more of a check on them because they have more law enforcement and investigative ability than HHS?”
King also asked whether HHS should improve its “vetting procedures. “It is a more casual type of vetting because they are dealing with kids,” he said. “We want to show some humanity, but if there is a large percentage of MS-13 members in the arrests of minors it’s something that needs to be examined.”
Sini said that those who sponsor unaccompanied minors need to be monitored. “Once the children are placed, the file is closed within 30 days,” he said.
“It is critical to the safety of immigrants, to the safety of unaccompanied children, and to the safety of our residents that we look at the program,” said Sini, who received a call Wednesday from an HHS official after King spoke to Price’s office.
King said he was impressed by the size of the crowd and the tenor of the discussion at Monday night’s meeting at Central Islip’s Knights of Columbus Hall.
King said Wednesday he believed the meeting highlighted, “a community coming together.” Which is why he wants to hold a hearing on MS-13 in Central Islip, and why “once these murderers are apprehended and there is a period of peace” he would like to see President Donald Trump visit and speak to residents.
“Once these guys are locked up, unless you are living in certain parts of Central Islip, the rest of the country is going to forget about it until the next atrocity,” he said.