The killings were horrific. The bludgeoning of four young men in a Central Islip park in April and the similarly brutal slaughter of two teenage girls last year in Brentwood drew national attention to Long Island and its fight to stop the vicious MS-13 street gang.
President Donald Trump is scheduled to address the incidents Friday in Brentwood not far from neighborhoods wracked by MS-13 violence. His attention to this plague is welcome. The MS-13 problem is tied inextricably to the larger problem of illegal immigration. Gang members typically come from Central America, mostly El Salvador. The recent flood of unaccompanied minors into Suffolk County, in particular, has meant more potential gang recruits — and victims.
But repairing the nation’s broken immigration system, including deciding what to do with those here without legal status, is a complex problem. This would be a welcome opportunity for Trump to move beyond the harsh campaign sound bites and offer a nuanced view of how the nation is to move forward.
Trump should take a good look around Long Island. MS-13 is not the full story of illegal immigration here. It is a dark and ugly chapter but there is much more to this tale. Immigrants, including those here illegally, have added vitality to many communities. They’re good neighbors, business owners, and workers at jobs others don’t want.
To date, Trump has used MS-13 to demonize all who are here illegally and justify ramped-up efforts to deport them. When he describes MS-13 members as “the animals that we’ve been protecting for so long,” as he did Tuesday in Ohio, he conflates the gang with all those who have come here looking for a better life. No one has been protecting MS-13. There are few among us who don’t want these killers deported and their enablers, who may be citizens, put behind bars.
Trump should detail the increased federal law enforcement focus on MS-13 which has led to the arrests or indictments of many of those thought to be responsible for the recent killings. He should pledge other resources to that effort. And he should reassure those in the very communities that have been victimized by MS-13 that they need not fear deportation if they cooperate with law enforcement.
That community already is fearful. That’s been the point of Trump’s harsh rhetoric: to get some here illegally to leave on their own and deter others from crossing the border. But he should consider the consequences. Farmers lack workers to cultivate their fields. Restaurants can’t find enough people for their kitchen and wait staffs.
In Texas earlier this week, 10 immigrants died and dozens were injured in an overheated tractor trailer operated by smugglers. One of the dead, a 20-year-old Guatemalan, was a suspected MS-13 member deported in March. A 16-year-old Mexican trying to reach his father in Colorado, find a job and support his newborn son and future wife suffered brain damage. On Wednesday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced the arrest of 114 foreign nationals in the region, including two from Long Island, as part of a crackdown on those immigrants who have committed crimes or other violations.
Most of us know that immigrants come here to realize the American dream. Comprehensive immigration reform, favored by the majority of Americans, is badly needed. Using MS-13 to demonize Long Island’s immigrant community is not.