A tweet from the White House sought to connect debate over illegal immigration to a Huntington Station stabbing allegedly committed by three MS-13 gang members this week.
Three suspects are charged in the attack on a group of Huntington High School students on Wednesday, chasing them after they left a Burger King on New York Avenue and assaulting them with bats and knives, authorities have said.
The suspects, Ramon Arevalo Lopez, 19, Oscar Canales Molina, 17, and Nobeli Montes Zuniga, 20, all of Huntington Station, had allegedly entered the country illegally, according to Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini. All three have pleaded not guilty and are due back in court next week.
We welcome immigrants who come here legally, but not illegal gang members. This week a HS student was stabbed by 3 MS-13 members. According to police, the attackers had entered the U.S. illegally, were picked up by DHS, but were released by judges. https://t.co/0qx0zAud13— The White House (@WhiteHouse) January 11, 2019
"We welcome immigrants who come here legally, but not illegal gang members," the White House tweeted on its official account on Friday afternoon, during a partial federal government shutdown related to debate over a border wall.
"This week a HS student was stabbed by 3 MS-13 members," the tweet continued. "According to police, the attackers had entered the U.S. illegally, were picked up by DHS, but were released by judges."
The tweet linked to an ABC/7 story, which was widely shared online.
It’s not clear if the attack was gang-related, but law enforcement officials said the three suspects are connected to MS-13 and were in the Suffolk County Police Department’s database of likely gang members.
Arevalo Lopez's attorney, Jason Bassett of Hauppauge, said his client is not a gang member.
“Ramon is not a member of MS-13 (or any other gang) — being 'confirmed' in some ill-conceived database isn’t proof of anything,” Bassett said in a statement Saturday morning. "Accusations made during a press conference aren’t proof of anything. Certainly tweets from a White House with a tenuous relationship with the truth aren’t proof of anything. While so many of our civil liberties have come under attack recently, we still cling to the idea that one is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Ramon is innocent of the charges against him."
Suffolk Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) “liked” the White House's tweet and separately tweeted “Let the Feds charge them !!!” in response to a Suffolk County Police Department tweet about the arrests.
Trump has not tweeted about the attack on his personal account. The president has, however, long made Long Island a focus of his campaign against MS-13.
In a visit to Brentwood in 2017, Trump described MS-13 as a "vile criminal cartel" that has "transformed peaceful parks in beautiful neighborhoods into bloodstained killing fields."
He attended an anti-gang forum at the Morrelly Homeland Security Center in Bethpage last year and criticized immigration laws that he said had helped the gang to grow.
"Crippling loopholes in our laws have enabled MS-13 gang members and other criminals to infiltrate our communities, and Democrats in Congress refuse to close these loopholes, including the disgraceful practice known as catch and release," Trump said there.
The president also invited the families of Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, two teenagers allegedly killed by MS-13, to attend his 2018 State of the Union. He mentioned the Brentwood High School students as “precious girls” during his speech.
"We cannot imagine the depth of your sorrow, but we can make sure that other families never have to endure this pain," Trump said.
In June, Trump again mentioned Long Island as a center of gang violence.
"We have liberated towns like it was captured by a foreign country . . . we have liberated towns out in Long Island," Trump said at a Minnesota rally.