President Donald Trump came to the doorstep of communities hard-hit by gang violence Friday, describing some Long Island neighborhoods as “blood-stained killing fields” that are “under siege.”
Speaking at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood, Trump said he will ask Congress to augment the 6,000 immigration and customs enforcement officers currently in place by funding 10,000 more agents. He also said he will seek to add hundreds of immigration judges, and crack down on “sanctuary cities” that don’t enforce federal immigration laws.
Addressing gang members, Trump vowed: “We will find you, we will arrest you, we will jail you and we will deport you.”
Standing in front of uniformed law enforcement officers in dress blues, Trump said he supported the police — and also suggested that officers treat suspects rougher:
“Like when you guys put somebody in the car, and you’re protecting their head — the way you put the hand over — like don’t hit their head, and they’ve just killed somebody, don’t hit their head? I said, ‘You can take the hand away, okay.’”
The Suffolk County Police Department released a statement later in the evening that said, “As a department, we do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners.” Suffolk’s former top uniformed officer, James Burke, is serving a federal prison sentence for beating a suspect and orchestrating a cover up.
Law enforcement has attributed 17 Long Island slayings since January 2016 to MS-13. That includes the murder of four young men lured to a Central Islip park and the murder of two teenage friends walking down the street.
Trump, who grew up in Queens, said he was surprised by the gang violence on Long Island.
“I grew up on Long Island,” he said. “I didn’t know about this. . . . I never thought I’d be up here talking about liberating the towns of Long Island, where I grew up.”
Trump shook hands with officers as he took the stage and was greeted with chants of “USA! USA!” from the crowd of uniformed officers and Republican elected officials.
Trump told police officers in attendance, “We have your backs 100 percent, not like in the old days.” Police cheered the remark.
“I am the big, big admirer, and believer, in law enforcement, from day one,” he said in his 37-minute speech. “We are going to destroy the vile criminal cartel, MS-13, and many other criminal gangs.”
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) introduced Trump, calling the president a “great advocate” for law enforcement. “President Trump knows that blue lives do matter,” he said. “MS-13 is going to be destroyed . . . ”
Some community members and immigration advocates said the president exaggerated the dangers in the community to justify an immigration crackdown.
“I drove through Brentwood this morning and people were jogging, children were playing in the street. It’s complete hyperbole and misreprents the community,” said Walter Barrientos, Long Island organizing director for immigration group Make the Road New York.
Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood) said Suffolk County police and the FBI have worked diligently to address the gang murders. “The community is going through a very difficult time, but President Trump is using these tragedies as a way to inflame anti-immigrant feelings, purely for political gains,” he said.
Robert Zimmerman, a Democratic National Committeeman from Great Neck, said Trump used the police as a political tool.
“We all recognize the savagery and the evil of MS-13, but when the president referred to Long Island as a killing field, that was an affront to every Suffolk and Nassau police officer,” he said.
Others praised the speech. Evelyn Rodriguez, the mother of Kayla Cuevas, one of the girls murdered by MS-13, was invited to attend the speech by Rep. Peter King’s office.
“What he was saying was what we’ve been asking for — more resources, for him to support our Suffolk PD,” she said in an interview after the president’s speech. “We need change here in our community.”
Fuad Faruque, 21 of Brentwood and vice-chair of the Stony Brook College Republicans, said he lived in the community all his life. “People do not feel safe at night walking their streets. Businesses are ashamed to say they’re based there. I don’t think it’s hyperbole,” he said.
The president briefly veered onto other topics, touting what he said was a stronger economy and decrying the failure of the effort to repeal Obamacare.
“You can’t have everything, boy oh boy,” he said, adding that he would let the health care system “implode.”
Returning to the topic of immigration, Trump also said, “We will build the wall,” saying it would help prevent illegal immigration from Mexico and obstruct the drug trade. “The wall is vital as a tool for ending the humanitarian disaster.”
Trump blamed former President Barack Obama’s immigration policies for allowing a surge of criminals into the country.
He said of 150,000 unaccompanied minors that have entered the United States, 4,000 came to Suffolk — including seven now indicted for murder.
He also appeared to take a broader swipe at current immigrants.
“You say, what happened to the old days where people came into this country, they worked and they worked and they worked, and they had families, and they paid taxes, and they did all sorts of things, and their families got stronger, and they were closely knit? We don’t see that.”
with Nicole Fuller, Mark Morales and Andrew Smith