CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Calling it “an assault on law safety,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed to prosecute gang members who commit crimes “to the fullest extent of the law.”
Sessions was speaking at the federal courthouse in Central Islip, where he is meeting with local, state and federal law enforcement about the violent MS-13 street gang.
“I have a message for the gangs that target our young people,” he said. “We are targeting you. We are coming after you.”
MS-13 has been blamed for 11 deaths of mostly young people discovered in woods and vacant lots in Brentwood and neighboring Central Islip since the start of the school year.
“The MS-13 mantra is ‘kill, rape and control.’ That’s their motto,” Sessions said. “Our motto is going to be justice for victims and consequences for criminals.”
The Department of Justice’s plan is to secure the border and strictly enforce immigration laws. Locally, there will be more federal funding, but the dollar amount is still unknown, CBS2’s Magdalena Doris reported.
“We will be able to increase the number of prosecutors and focus on violent crimes,” Sessions said.
Security was extremely tight around the courthouse as dozens of people who support immigrants protested outside.
“My message is not to make this an immigration issue,” one woman said.
“Our community has gone through some terrible tragedies,” protester Cheryl Kescher told WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall. “We need help. We don’t need more racist enforcement against immigrants and more fear injected into our community when people are already so afraid.”
“We still need the police department working closely with the community and building trust with the community,” said Glen Cove resident Angel Reyes.
A Catholic nun from Brentwood, Sister Catherine Fitzgibbon, says the area’s “very good” and “hardworking” residents fear both the MS-13 gang and immigration enforcement.
“The fact that we’ve had these vicious murders and within days of my talking to the attorney general he agreed to come here, to me, shows the full strength of the federal government to eradicate MS-13. They should be on their knees thanking him, not out there protesting,” Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said.
On April 12 in a Central Islip park, police found the bodies of four brutally beaten young men — Jorge Tigre, Justin Llivicura, Jefferson Villalobos and Michael Lopez Banegas.
And last September, two 16-year-old Brentwood girls, Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, were found killed in the same fashion.
The bloodshed has gotten the attention of President Donald Trump, who says the killings are the result of lax immigration policies that let too many criminal “scum” slip through.
“We will prosecute gang members who commit crimes to the fullest extent of the law and after they’re convicted, if they’re not here lawfully, they’re going to be deported,” Sessions said.
“The president did make a promise to make America safe again,” he added.
Following the media briefing, Sessions met with families whose children were believed to be murdered by MS-13 gang members.
“He gave his condolences, which was very sincere from him, and he’s a genuine man, I can say,” Robert Mickens, Nisa’s father, told CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan.
“As parents that lost their loved ones, we just want to see positive change for our community and our school district,” Evelyn Rodriguez, Kayla’s mother said.
Family members said Sessions hugged them during their private meeting when they asked for federal funding to help local schools and parks. They told him they’re worried the violence could escalate this summer when kids are out of school.
“Look, we have lost so many young children. We can’t keep losing more, and we need all the help we can get,” Suffolk County legislator Monica Martinez said.
Some in the community grateful for the help said law enforcement must address with education societal problems, like drugs and poverty, lack of family and opportunities to tackle the lure of gangs.
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The attorney general recently criticized New York City for being “soft” on undocumented immigrants and pushed tougher enforcement.
On Friday, he defended the president’s “promise to secure our borders and restore a lawful system of immigration.”
“We’ve also taken steps to end the lawless practice of so-called sanctuary jurisdictions,” he said. “I believe they make the country and the cities less safe. I understand there are those who disagree. But the American people rightly demand a lawful system of immigration.”
“The first thing you should do with an immigration policy is not admit people who want to come to your country to commit crimes,” he added.
He called exaggerated the concerns that any undocumented immigrants cooperating with investigators are in jeopardy, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.
“And we’re not, to my knowledge, out seeking down witnesses to crimes to deport,” he said.
But he did add that “persons who enter the country unlawfully are subject to being deported.”
The street gang, also called Mara Salvatrucha, was founded in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s by immigrants fleeing El Salvador’s civil war.
On Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a task force of 25 state troopers, who will flood the area to combat gang crime on Long Island.
After the speech, Sessions held a meeting with the families of victims Cuevas and Mickens.
(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)