Trump talks tough on MS-13
Photographer Mike Busch captured this image of Air Force One landing at Islip MacArthur Airport on Friday.

Photo courtesy Mike Busch

Trump talks tough on MS-13


Last Friday, President Donald Trump admitted that he never thought he’d be standing on Long Island giving a speech about “liberating” suburban towns from gang violence. Law enforcement from Nassau, Suffolk, Dutchess and Ulster counties as well as members of the NYPD filled an auditorium at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood to hear Trump’s remarks on recent MS-13 violence and calling for tougher immigration policies.

His visit comes in the wake of MS-13 gang arrests, four of which are tied to the April murders of Michael Lopez Banegas, 20, of Brentwood, Jefferson Villalobos, 18, of Pompano, Fla., Justin Llivicura, 16, of East Patchogue and Jorge Tigre, 18, of Bellport, in Central Islip. 

Trump vowed to destroy the gang, responsible for 17 Long Island murders since January 2016. “They have transformed peaceful parks and beautiful, quiet neighborhoods into bloodstained killing fields,” Trump said of MS-13.  “They’re animals.”

Law enforcement applauded his remarks, sitting beneath signs that read “American heroes protecting American lives.”

During the nearly hour-long speech, Trump largely stayed on message, though made brief comments about the failed healthcare repeal and the campaign.

He also used the opportunity to call for tougher immigration policies, criticizing the Obama Administration. “The previous administration enacted an open-door policy to illegal immigrants from Central America. Welcome in. Come in, please,” he said. Over two terms as president, Obama carried out more than 5.2 million deportations, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. 

Trump blamed “weak” borders and lack of leadership for the influx of drug and crime. “I’ve met police that are great police that aren’t allowed to do their job because they have a pathetic mayor or a mayor doesn’t know what’s going on,” he said, firing at NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Again calling for the construction of a wall on our southern border, Trump also called for Congress to fund an additional 10,000 Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to aid in rooting out MS-13. 

The president also discussed unaccompanied minors, claiming that more than 150,000 unaccompanied “alien minors” arrived at the border in the three years before he took office. “Nearly 4,000 from this wave were released into Suffolk County — congratulations — including seven who are now indicted for murder,” Trump said, adding that at least 42 minors have been implicated in MS-13-related violence in the Washington, D.C. area.

“What happened to the old days where people came into this country, they worked and they worked and they worked, and they had families, and they paid taxes, and they did all sorts of things, and their families got stronger, and they were closely knit? We don’t see that,” he added. 

In April, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reported that undocumented immigrants in the U.S. collectively contribute nearly $12 billion in taxes.

Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) traveled with the president on Air Force One from Washington on Friday, supporting his proposal for a tougher immigration system. Zeldin also called for all levels of government to join together on this issue, support local law enforcement and educate locally. 

Outside, hundreds of protesters both for and against Trump lined the streets. “While some chose to line the streets and protest the president’s arrival with claims that his motives for coming were to ‘attack immigrants,’ his words today proved that this was simply not true,” Zeldin said in a statement. “This administration has taken a hard stance against gang activity, and it is imperative that we come together as one community in rejection of this violence, which has claimed too many innocent lives.”

The line that caught the most attention from national mainstream media was an apparent endorsement of police brutality. “When you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon ... you just see them thrown in, rough ... I said, please don’t be too nice. Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over?  Like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody...don’t hit their head.  I said, you can take the hand away, OK?” Trump said, to laughter and applause.

It was no laughing matter to the Suffolk County Police Department, who released the following statement: “The Suffolk County Police Department has strict rules and procedures relating to the handling of prisoners, and violations of those rules and procedures are treated extremely seriously. As a department, we do not and will not tolerate ‘rough[ing]’ up prisoners.”

County Sheriff Vincent DeMarco recently praised the Trump Administration for attacking the economic heart of what he called a strengthening alliance between Mexican drug cartels, sex traffickers and gangs. “When people talk about border security, the first thing they usually think of is illegal immigration, but I think about heroin … I think about sex trafficking and arms smuggling. These are issues that have had a devastating effect on millions of Americans, including law-abiding noncitizens who are here to make a better life for themselves, their families and their communities,” said DeMarco.  

Trump, in his remarks, told law enforcement officers, “We have your backs, believe me. We have your backs 100 percent. Not like the old days.”