Local, New York State and federal officials announced plans last week to crack down on MS-13, the violent transnational street gang that authorities suspect committed a recent quadruple murder in Central Islip.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone is seeking better protections for Central American immigrants that are unaccompanied minors—the most vulnerable population to gang recruiters—when they’re placed in communities on eastern Long Island. Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed state police to beef up its LI gang investigations and have Troopers help patrol Brentwood and Central Islip. And U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Sessions said he plans to bring more federal prosecutors to LI—although some were concerned that his tough talk may cause a chilling effect among crime witnesses that are undocumented immigrants.
“I have a message for any gang that targets our young people: we are targeting you, and we are coming after you,” Sessions told reporters during a news conference Friday in Central Islip before meeting with members of local enforcement, lawmakers and some recent murder victims’ families.
The focus on the gang came after police last month found the bodies of four young men between the ages of 16 and 20 dead in a wooded area of a Central Islip park. Police have said the overkill the victims suffered is among the signs that MS-13—which has 30,000 members and is headquartered in El Salvador—is responsible. The case marks 11 murders in Brentwood and neighboring Central Islip since September, most of which police have said had gang involvement.
Sessions noted that President Trump is “very aware personally” of the recent high-profile murders on LI. The AG touted the administration’s planned Mexican border wall expansion and increased efforts to deport undocumented immigrants as key to fighting MS-13. He called concerns “exaggerated” that undocumented immigrants won’t provide tips to police for fear of being deported.
Nassau and Suffolk county police commissioners maintain they don’t ask crime victims or witnesses about their immigration status.
“The issues around gangs are complex,” said state Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood). “There’s no magic bullet.”
While arguing against the immigration crackdown and for economic development in the community to create opportunities for residents to work their way out of poverty that breeds gangs, Ramos noted that many unaccompanied minors are good students and countless gang members are US citizens. But many of the proposals that officials announced involved investing in law enforcement, not anti-poverty efforts.
Cuomo directed state police to increase local and federal investigative partners access to state intelligence, added six state investigators to the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force and dedicated a member of the state’s Gang Intelligence Unit to LI.
“They will provide intelligence expertise, electronic equipment, including state of the art electronic surveillance equipment, vehicles, aviation equipment… to combat, exclusively, gang violence in select pockets of the state and especially focusing on MS-13 on Long Island,” the governor said. “We will not rest until MS-13 is put out of business because we have zero tolerance in this state for the thuggery that MS-13 has made their calling card.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone’s plan included requesting federal funds to help local police combat MS-13, have the federal government share the cost of funding gang prevention efforts, preventing the placement of unaccompanied minors with gang ties in the community and having the federal government notify local governments and school districts where unaccompanied minors are being placed.
“We understand that to win this war, it will take a coordinated approach between all layers of government and the community,” Bellone said. “These actions are intended to undermine MS-13 efforts to recruit and victimize the most vulnerable children in the community.”