For Republicans, President Donald Trump’s visit to Brentwood on Friday is about signaling a strong federal-government commitment to rooting out the violent street gang MS-13.
For some Democrats, it’s about dividing the community and demonizing immigrants to justify raids and deportations. And for some political strategists, it’s about returning to an issue that plays well with the president’s base of support while getting out of Washington and shifting focus away from the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, at least for a day.
“It’s the least Russian thing going on right now. That’s serious — he’s looking to change the subject in any way,” said Republican strategist Susan Del Percio, adding that the visit makes sense politically. “He’s going back to an issue he campaigned on . . . and while this is happening on Long Island, it certainly resonates around the country.”
The Republican president is slated to address a law-enforcement crowd at Suffolk County Community College, commending them for efforts to rout MS-13 — an international crime gang with thousands of members in several Central American countries and many U.S. states — from Suffolk County.
It follows a similar visit by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April, in which he vowed to provide federal help to smash the gang. Local law enforcement has made significant arrests this year — including the indictment of nine MS-13 members connected to the brutal hacking to death of four young men in a Central Islip park.
The purpose of Trump’s visit, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said, is to “show his overall support for law enforcement and commend them for the job they are doing against MS-13.”
“He is sending a signal to the community and law enforcement that the most powerful official in the world is standing with them,” King said.
A senior White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said Thursday night that Trump “is a New Yorker, so he knows New York and he knows Long Island.”
“The speech topline is going to be rallying Congress to fully support what we in the administration believe we need to do to end this threat once and for all,” the official said, adding that King and others have lobbied Trump to combat the gang.
The president’s visit is occurring in King’s congressional district — which Trump carried 53 percent to 44 percent over Democrat Hillary Clinton. Trump also won Suffolk County as a whole, 52-45 percent.
“He is very popular here,” said John Jay LaValle, Suffolk County Republican chairman. “He’s going to get a very strong reception.”
LaValle said the president is showing his concern about the community: “He didn’t forget Suffolk County.”
Some Democrats disagree.
“I’m very concerned that President Trump’s visit will be about politics and promoting more hate and divisiveness in our community as opposed to actually helping with the gang problem,” said Assemb. Philip Ramos (D-Brentwood). “I believe what Donald Trump wants to do is get community buy-in for him to start doing immigration raids and start separating families.”
Ramos, who in the Assembly represents the area Trump is visiting, noted there already are laws on the books that provide for the deportation of illegal immigrants who commit violent crimes. Ramos said economic development and anti-gang programs are what’s needed most. He said he fears Trump is coming to “throw red meat to his base.”
For Ramos, Trump is trying to “justify his personal bias that immigrants, by their very nature, have a propensity to be criminals.”
But King said, “This is about getting murderers and gangs. To suggest otherwise is really wrong.”
Brentwood is nearly 70 percent Hispanic, according to City-Data.com. In that way, it is “representative of many suburban communities that are undergoing dramatic demographic and political change,” said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the center for suburban studies at Hofstra University. Traveling there, he said, likely will reinforce Democrats’ and Republicans’ view of him.
“Trump wasn’t and isn’t popular in places like these, but Long Island is intensely segregated and Brentwood is not far from ‘red’ communities where Trump did very well,” Levy said in an email. “So all in one visit he gets to anger his opponents, who loathe him on issues like immigration, and please his base.”
With Emily Ngo