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Cases of accused attackers of students adjourned while White House tweets about assault

Oscar Canales Molina, 17, Ramon Arevalo Lopez, 19,

Oscar Canales Molina, 17, Ramon Arevalo Lopez, 19, and Nobeli Montes Zuniga, 20, all of Huntington Station, were charged with second degree assault. Credit: SCPD

The cases of three alleged MS-13 members accused of attacking Huntington High School students were adjourned to Jan. 22, a day after the White House again attempted to tie the attack to the illegal immigration debate on Twitter.

The defendants, Ramon Arevalo Lopez, 19, Oscar Canales Molina, 17, and Nobeli Montes Zuniga, 20, all of Huntington Station, are charged with second-degree assault in connection with last Wednesday's attack in which other students, a 16-year-old boy who was stabbed and another boy who was injured, were left with non-life-threatening injuries. The three are accused of chasing them after they left a Burger King on New York Avenue and assaulting them with bats and knives, authorities said.

District Court Judge Gaetan Lozito in First District Court in Central Islip on Tuesday continued their bail of $35,000 cash or $75,000 bond.

All three are Huntington High School students who local authorities say entered the country illegally and were listed in a police department database of likely gang members.

In a tweet Monday, the White House posted a link to a Washington Times story about the assault. The story says a “legal loophole” allowed two of the suspects, who it says were unaccompanied minors, to be released from federal custody after being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2017.

“Another stabbing at the hands of MS-13 that could have been prevented. Enough is enough. Congress, close this loophole!” the tweet stated. The White House previously tweeted Friday about the case, linking to an WABC story and saying: “We welcome immigrants who come here legally, but not illegal gang members".

Arevalo Lopez was detained by ICE in October 2017 and released by a federal judge on June 12, 2018, according to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. Canales Molina was detained in July 2017 and released by a federal judge in November 2017, the DA said in a news release.

Court documents show Arevalo Lopez arrived at the border when he was 17 years old as an unaccompanied minor. He told federal agents he was traveling to New York, fleeing gang threats in El Salvador, to meet his mother. Information on how the other two defendants came to the United States was not available Tuesday. 

A spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security said in an email that the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act “incentivizes” unaccompanied minors to come to the United States “with little to no chance of ever being removed.” The law is designed to protect victims of human trafficking, including unaccompanied migrant children en route to or in the United States.

“One of the loopholes we are imploring Congress to close could have prevented this gruesome attack,” DHS spokeswoman Katie Waldman said Tuesday. “This loophole is exploited by MS-13 to gain additional recruits.” 

Montes Zuniga’s attorney, Norley Castaneda of Central Islip, declined to comment Monday. Arevalo Lopez’s lawyer, Jason Bassett of Hauppauge, said in an email: “We are looking forward to the actual facts coming out which will show that Ramon Arevalo Lopez is not a gang member and that he is not guilty of the charges brought against him.”

Bassett said in a prior email that White House tweets "aren't proof of anything."

Canales Molina is represented by the Legal Aid Society, which typically does not comment on cases.

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