Wall Street Journal (New York)
By Joseph de Avila
May 24, 2017
Scrutiny should be increased on new underage immigrants settling in Long Island, as communities battle rising violence from the transnational gang MS-13, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini told U.S. lawmakers Wednesday.
Testifying before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Mr. Sini stressed that the majority of unaccompanied minors living in Long Island, who fled violence in Central America, are law-abiding residents. Even so, they also are “particularly vulnerable to recruitment” from MS-13, which is responsible for 27 murders in Suffolk County since 2013, according to Mr. Sini.
The gang has attempted to recruit children as young as 10 years old in Suffolk County, he said. “They are adjusting to a new culture in society,” he said. “So they are vulnerable at that point.”
Law-enforcement officials from Massachusetts and Maryland testified Wednesday before the Senate committee that oversees border-security, that MS-13 has been recruiting unaccompanied minors in their states as well. The Trump administration has singled out MS-13 as a symbol of lax border enforcement, and has promised to provide resources to local law-enforcement agencies to take on the gang.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.), and chairman of the committee said Los Angeles, Houston, Long Island, Boston and the Washington, D.C., area have been designated as MS-13 hot spots by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Each of those areas has seen influxes of unaccompanied minors, he said.
“MS-13 has used American schools to recruit members and carry out acts of violence,” Mr. Johnson said. “The typical MS-13 member today is younger and even more violent than in years past.”
In April, four young men were discovered dead in a park in Central Islip, N.Y., drawing national attention to Long’s Island’s gang problem.
Under the federal unaccompanied minor program, immigrants under the age of 18 who enter the country without their parents or a legal guardian, and lack proper immigration papers are placed with family or friends, called sponsors, until a court settles their immigration status.
Detective Scott Conley of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Chelsea Police Department in Massachusetts said MS-13 targets unaccompanied minors who don’t have strong relationships with their U.S. sponsors.
Many of those minors are in need of protection, making them “a perfect candidate for gang recruitment, and in this case recruitment for MS-13,” Mr. Conley said.
More than 900 unaccompanied minors were placed in Suffolk County homes in the six months to March 2017, according to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. That influx marks the fourth highest among U.S. counties during that period.
Federal authorities should increase screenings of those unaccompanied minors to root out potential gang members, Mr. Sini said, also calling for compliance monitoring of the sponsors. The commissioner also asked for an increase in the number of federal prosecutors working in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, which covers Long Island, to assist with federal prosecution of MS-13 members.
New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in a news release that immigrants shouldn’t be used as scapegoats to address the violence of MS-13.
“If immigrant witnesses and victims of crime believe that the police are collaborating with federal immigration officials, they will be scared to come forward,” she said. “The Suffolk County Police Department must recommit to building trust with Latino communities to combat the recent wave of violence.”
During his testimony, Mr. Sini his department doesn’t inquire about the immigration status from potential witnesses or crime victims. He noted that Suffolk County police didn’t join an initiative of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that authorizes local police to enforce federal immigration laws because that could discourage witnesses from coming forward.
“That could compromise our mission,” Mr. Sini added.
Meanwhile, the New York Police Department said Tuesday that a 16-year-old found dead in a Queens park over the weekend was a MS-13 member. The man was identified as a member of MS-13 based on prior records and fingerprints, a law-enforcement official said.
The Queens resident was stabbed 34 times, including 28 times in the back and six times in the chest, police said. He also had signs of blunt trauma to his neck and torso, the official said. The body likely had been in the park for several days, the official said.
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