A day before President Donald Trump is set to address gang violence at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood, local leaders and advocates had a simple message for him at a rally outside the school on Thursday: “He is not welcome here.”
Representatives from several groups gathered outside the school on Crooked Hill Road and charged that Trump’s presence would only add fuel to what they said was a “hateful, anti-immigrant agenda.”
“We say loud and clear, that after months of vilifying our communities, he is not welcome here,” said Walter Barrientos of Make The Road New York, an immigrants advocacy group.
Trump is expected to speak at the Van Nostrand Theatre on the SCCC campus on Friday, White House officials have said.
The campus is near the Central Islip and Brentwood neighborhoods that have been the sites of brutal killings attributed by law enforcement to MS-13.
Trump, who is expected to address law enforcement about the MS-13 gang, touted his administration’s effort to crack down on the gang. “We are throwing MS-13 the hell out of here so fast,” Trump said at a Tuesday night rally in Youngstown, Ohio.
Meanwhile, Sergio Argueta, founder of the anti-gang advocacy group STRONG, said it was lack of education and opportunity among immigrant youths that was to blame for the MS-13 problem.
“The minute you start criminalizing these kids, making them the target of your rhetoric, of these policies, using the one percent as the poster child as to why all of these people are bad, you lose an entire community and you risk alienating, and most importantly criminalizing and actually fueling the gang issue,” Argueta said.
Protesters are expected to be out in droves with a rally planned for Brentwood State Park about noon, rally organizers said.
John Jay LaValle, Suffolk Republican chairman, called the planned protest “kind of ridiculous” and said Trump was showing his commitment and concern over drugs and gangs, two issues plaguing Long Island communities.
“To protest the president is beyond unreasonable. It’s purely politics . . . and there are folks who can’t get over losing the election,” said LaValle, who added that he would be at the president’s law enforcement event.
The party leader also said the local GOP was not organizing any counter-demonstrations, but he expected Trump supporters would be out in droves.
“Our phones have been ringing off the hook because everyone wants a chance to see him and support him,” LaValle said. “They are all excited he’s coming to town.”
But state Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood), who was also present at the rally on Thursday, doubts Trump’s intentions are to help.
“He wants to politicize the tragedies and not help,” said Ramos, who echoed Argueta’s call for more development and opportunities. “Those are the things that solve the gang problem,” Ramos said. “Not coming here and revving up anti-immigrant feelings and hate just to use as a political talking point to justify a racist narrative that the president has in his mind.”