President Donald Trump will travel to Suffolk County, New York, on Friday, in what one lawmaker is calling an “historic” trip to a regional hot bed and breeding spot for individuals belonging to the violent street gang MS-13.
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“This is a vicious gang of murderers … brutal … just an absolute disgrace,” Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who represents the Long Island district heavily affected by recent killings, said during an interview with FOX Business. “To have the president come here, two months after we had the attorney general come in … I can’t emphasize how important it is … to give hope to the community that the United States government and literally the most powerful person in the world, stands with [them].”
Trump’s visit follows the arrests of more than 15 suspected members of MS-13 earlier this month, some of whom are believed to be connected to the violent deaths of four individuals in April.
MS-13 is on one of its most deadly tears through Long Island, New York since it took root there about 30 years ago, linked to 17 murders in the past 16 months, according to Rep. King. However, King says the situation has started to improve over the past two to three months, a timeframe during which local communities have seen a “massive” number of arrests and MS-13 operatives taken into police custody.
King attributes recent improvements in the fight against MS-13 to increased support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which has been helping to close a key immigration loophole in the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors program that gang members have exploited in order to shuttle in and recruit new members. Additionally, he says increasing the number of raids and deporting illegal immigrants who have committed crimes are two other key pieces of the strategy.
However, Michael Balboni, founder of securities firm Redland Strategies and former homeland security advisor for New York State, told FOX Business that the increased enforcement effort may be driving members “underground”, which could mean they will come back one day. “It’s about sustainability … for the safety of the people, you can’t walk away from this,” he said.
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MS-13, a group that was started by Central American immigrants in Los Angeles in the 1980s, is known for its ruthless and violent tactics – notably using machetes to hack victims. Most of the founding members were from El Salvador and fled to the U.S. during the country’s civil war that lasted 12 years, from 1980-92. Since then the gang’s membership has ballooned to at least 10,000 members in the United States and more than 30,000 worldwide, according to the FBI and Treasury Department.
For years, MS-13 flourished by feeding off of immigrant communities that have suffered in silence, according to Balboni. The “perpetuation of that process” had made this a really challenging effort for law enforcement, he said.
MS-13 is not a particularly well-funded organization and it traditionally resorts to theft, human trafficking, sex trafficking, selling drugs and extortion for financing, as previously reported by FOX Business. However, on Long Island the group has fostered an underground economy that law enforcement officials have largely been unable to reach for the past 20 to 30 years.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken the lead on fighting MS-13, visiting Long Island in April as a show of support to local communities. However, amid rising tensions with President Trump, Sessions flew to El Salvador on Thursday, where he is reportedly tackling MS-13 at its source.
King, who is meeting with the president Friday, confirmed Sessions has been working with contacts in El Salvador to combat the MS-13 threat. He also said the United States is taking action in the Central American country to stop domestic MS-13 gang members, though he declined to comment further on exactly what that action is.