NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Calling his predecessor’s policies on illegal immigration “weak,” President Donald Trump blamed the Obama administration for letting the violent MS-13 street gang form in America.
“The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin. allowed bad MS 13 gangs to form in cities across U.S. We are removing them fast!” Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning before Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the Justice Department will crack down on violent gangs.
Speaking before a meeting with federal law enforcement officials to discuss ways to combat organized crime, Sessions said in prepared remarks that gangs like MS-13 “represent one of the gravest threats to American safety.”
He says tougher enforcement of immigration and border crimes will curb gang activity. And he says cities that protect people in the country illegally make efforts to fight gang violence more difficult. He says so-called sanctuary cities are “aiding these cartels to refill their ranks.”
The MS-13 gang, also called Mara Salvatrucha, is believed to have been founded as a neighborhood street gang in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s by immigrants fleeing a civil war in El Salvador. It grew after some members were deported to El Salvador, helping turn that country into one of the most violent places in the world. It’s now a major international criminal enterprise with tens of thousands of members in several Central American countries and many U.S. states.
According to the FBI, the gang is present in almost every state and targets younger recruits to grow its membership.
On Long Island, gang violence has been a problem in Central Islip, Brentwood and other communities for more than a decade, but Suffolk County police and the FBI began pouring resources into a crackdown following a spike in homicides last year that were blamed on gang violence.
Suffolk County police have declared war on the gang believed to be responsible for a wave of unsolved murders and disappearances that has terrorized the community.
“This is a long term war, and make no mistake about it, it’s a war,” Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said this month.
Last week, four young men found dead in a Central Islip park were killed in a way that is consistent with the methods of the MS-13 gang, according to police.
The victims, who ranged in age from 16 to 20, were remembered at a vigil at Bellport High School in Brookhaven where about 100 people gathered Monday night.
“We’ll do everything we can to solve these murders as quickly as possible,” Sini said.
“This is a very tough time for everyone. It’s painful, we’re scared, we’re afraid of what’s going on right now,” Assemblyman Dean Murray said.
The discovery of the bodies came about a month after the arrest of eight MS-13 gang members in connection with the September killings of two teenage girls in nearby Brentwood.
Prosecutors said Kayla Cuevas, 16, was targeted last summer by a group of four gang members because she had been feuding with MS-13 members at school and on social media. The group, which had been driving around looking for gang enemies, attacked when they came across her walking with Nisa Mickens, 15, in the street. The inseparable best friends were attacked with a machete and baseball bats, officials said.
Nisa “was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time, hanging out with her childhood friend,” former U.S. Attorney Robert Capers said in announcing the arrests.
“They come from Central America. They’re tougher than any people you’ve ever met,” he said. “They’re killing and raping everybody out there. They’re illegal. And they are finished.”
One of his priorities is cracking down on immigrants who are in the country illegally and have committed crimes.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)