President Donald Trump twice mentioned Long Island in his first State of the Union address Tuesday while discussing his administration’s war on the violent transnational street gang MS-13 that’s killed dozens locally.
Trump congratulated Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Celestino Martinez for leading an operation to track down the gang’s members on LI. But first, the president called attention to four of his guests, the parents of Brentwood teenagers Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas, who were both killed by the gang in 2016.
“These two precious girls were brutally murdered while walking together in their hometown,” he said. “Six members of the savage gang MS-13 have been charged with Kayla and Nisa’s murders. Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors — and wound up in Kayla and Nisa’s high school.”
Mickens’ parents, Elizabeth Alvarado and Robert Mickens, and Cuevas’ parents, Evelyn Rodriguez and Freddy Cuevas, wiped away tears as the president mentioned their daughters and asked the four to stand.
“Evelyn, Elizabeth, Freddy, and Robert: Tonight, everyone in this chamber is praying for you,” Trump said. “Everyone in America is grieving for you. And 320 million hearts are breaking for you. We cannot imagine the depth of your sorrow, but we can make sure that other families never have to endure this pain.”
Trump used the case as an example of why Congress should pass his four-part immigration plan. The proposal would end the visa lottery, complete the wall along the US-Mexico border, end chain migration and create a path to citizenship for 1.8 undocumented immigrants whose parents brought them to America as minors.
He also used it to segue into his call on Congress to increase funding to federal law enforcement agencies such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He noted that Agent “CJ” Martinez didn’t back down from his pursuit of MS-13 members despite the gang ordering a hit on him.
“I asked CJ, what’s the secret” Trump said in an unscripted part of the speech. “And he said, ‘we’re just tougher than they are.’”
LI’s congressional representatives also brought guests to the address.
U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) brought deli owner Donato Panico, who founded the nonprofit organization “Heros 4 Our Heroes,” which provides food to local firefighters, police and veterans.
U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) invited 27-year- old Nelson Melgar of Glen Cove. Melgar, a graduate of Hunter College, is a DACA enrollee who first came to this country 14 years ago from Honduras.
“Proud to have Nelson as my guest at this year’s State of the Union address,” Suozzi tweeted. “He represents what is best about our community.”
—With Christa Ganz and Stephanie Perrone