For the second time in his presidency, President Donald Trump made way to Long Island on Wednesday, May 23 to convene a roundtable for tougher immigration laws. Central to the discussion were the gruesome crimes of the notorious MS-13 gang.
“It’s a menace, a ruthless gang that has violated our borders and transformed once-peaceful neighborhoods into bloodstained killing fields,” said Trump as he opened up the roundtable discussion. “Horrible people, by the way.”
Also joining him and the number of local and federal officials were the parents of two young high schoolers, Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas. The two young girls had been killed by MS-13 gang members in 2016 as a result of what is believed to have been a social media altercation.
“It’s one thing for kids to have a little argument. But to murder a fellow classmate… You’re not an ordinary human,” said Robert Mickens, father of Nisa Mickens.
“Our streets should not have to be bloodshed,” he added. “Us as parents should not have to bury our child. We can’t have children kill children anymore.”
By Mickens’ side was his wife Elizabeth Alvarado who donned a black t-shirt with a photo of their daughter on it. Also at the table were Cuevas’ parents, Evelyn Rodriguez and Freddy Cuevas. In the audience were the family members of three of the four young men murdered by MS-13 in April of last year behind a soccer field in nearby Suffolk County.
Easily among the world’s most deadliest gangs, MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, was born in Los Angeles during the 1980s and has since become a cross-border criminal organization whose motto “mata, viola, controla” translates to “kill, rape, and control.” Machetes are often their weapons of choice.
Its founders were refugees from El Salvador’s civil war who in part initially wanted to provide protection to immigrants from El Salvador. According to the U.S Justice Department, roughly 10,000 members are in the U.S. and about 30,000 are scattered internationally.
Since entering office, the gang has been a big part of Trump’s rhetoric on illegal immigration and has become even more so in recent weeks.
Last week, Trump described criminals who enter the U.S. illegally as “animals,” which elicited some criticism from those who initially took the description as being meant to cover all immigrants.
Calling out his critics, Trump defended his remark Wednesday when describing MS-13.
“I called them ‘animals’ the other day and I was met with rebuke,” said Trump. “They said, ‘They are people.’ They’re not people. These are animals.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deputy director Thomas D. Homan backed Trump and said his description was being “kind”.
“Animals kill to survive,” said Homan. “MS-13 kills for sport.”
Joining in the discussion, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has been at odds with Trump over the Russian investigation, took issue on how MS-13 gang members have been targeting vulnerable unaccompanied minor children who cross into the U.S. illegally often without a support system or family.
When caught, many of them are eventually released from custody which further worsens the issue, he added.
“Some develop gang ties,” said Rosenstein.
Quoting statistics drawn by the Department of Homeland Security, Rosenstein added that less than four percent of unaccompanied minors are eventually removed from the United States.
According to Homan, 300 arrests of MS-13 members were made in Long Island last year, with over 40 percent of those arrests being unaccompanied minors.
Immigrant advocates have long argued that the children — many of whom come from Central America — comes to the U.S seeking safety in hopes of escaping violence back home. Trump and his administration have argued that such processes were “loopholes” in the law for them to gain residency.
“We have the worst immigration laws of any country, anywhere in the world,” said Trump. “They exploited the loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors.”
“They look so innocent,” he added. “They’re not innocent.”
On the dias, Trump later said he was working on a plan to reduce aid from countries he said were not doing anything to prevent MS-13 members from entering the U.S illegally.
“We’re looking at our whole aid structure. It’s going to be changed very radically,” said Trump who has previously accused countries like Mexico for not helping in the prevention of illegal crossings.
Acknowledging the tension regarding immigration, Mickens urged people to see the the issue from his and the other parents’ perspective.
“Obviously this is a very touchy subject because there is immigration involved,” said Mickens.
“America is based off immigration. Everybody who came here wanted the American dream,” he added. “The American dream is still here. But if you’re going to come here with acts of violence, you can stay in your own country with that, because we don’t need it here anymore.”
According to Customs and Border Protection, 228 of the tens of thousands seized at the border were found to be members of MS-13 — down from 437 in 2014.