WASHINGTON — Reps. Peter King and Lee Zeldin met with President Donald Trump at the White House on Tuesday as part of a roundtable discussion on combating the deadly MS-13 gang.
At the meeting — which included White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Department of Homeland Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and more than a dozen other law enforcement officials and members of Congress — Trump pressed lawmakers to approve his four-point immigration reform plan which calls in part for $25 billion in funding for a southern border wall.
Trump, who has long pointed to MS-13 as a symbol of lax immigration enforcement, said the gang had generated “levels of ferocity” and violence unseen in the past and said if “we don’t have the wall, we’re never going to solve this problem.”
“We have to strengthen our borders, not by a little bit but by a lot,” Trump said.
Law enforcement officials have said that MS-13 — a gang that originated in Los Angeles in the 1980s and has since spread to Central American countries — has been aggressive in recruiting young immigrant newcomers, many of whom arrived in the United States illegally without their parents or an adult.
King (R-Seaford), sitting across the table from Trump, said the federal government had to “do more” to “follow up” on unaccompanied immigrant minors who are placed with local relatives as they sort out their immigration status. King noted that seven of the 13 alleged gang members indicted in the 2016 killings of Brentwood High School students Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas were admitted into the country as unaccompanied minors.
King recommended U.S. families hosting such minors be fingerprinted and vetted to ensure they do not have any gang ties. “If a foster child is placed with a family, there is more follow-up,” King said.
After the meeting, King said he has introduced legislation that would require fingerprinting and “in-depth vetting” of families hosting such minors, saying “while the overwhelming majority of kids who come in as unaccompanied minors are good kids . . . a disproportionate number of the MS-13 members are unaccompanied minors.”
Zeldin (R-Shirley) questioned the effectiveness of the “Temporary Protected Status” system that offers provisional legal status to immigrants living in the U.S. from a pool of designated countries — including Haiti, Honduras and El Salvador — recovering from natural disasters and armed conflicts, asking why “16 years later someone would be in our country under something called temporary.”
He took aim at parents from other countries who support their children crossing into the United States without them.
“America is a compassionate country, we have compassion for every child who is living in poverty, oppression, gang violence anywhere in the world, but we don’t have the bandwidth for every parent to turn their kids over for this mission . . . to come over to this country,” Zeldin said.
The meeting comes as Trump continues to push Congress to adopt his immigration reform plan, which also calls for the elimination of family-reunification visas and the diversity-based visa lottery program. The plan also would offer a path to citizenship for 1.8 million so-called Dreamers, young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as minors.
After the meeting Trump signed an order establishing a “National Vetting Center” aimed at improving the nation’s screening of immigrants and travelers to the United States, according to the White House.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the center would be led by the Department of Homeland Security, which will coordinate the efforts of other federal agencies “to better identify individuals seeking to enter the country who present a threat to national security, border security, homeland security, or public safety.”