HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – At an MS-13 gang conference Thursday, amid law enforcement from throughout the area, attendees learned at least 8,600 children from Central America between the ages of 6 and 17 made their way to Long Island in the past four years.

Many arrived without parents, and now schools, police and taxpayers are feeling the repercussions, reports CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan.

According to some CBS2 interviewed, vulnerable pre-teen and teens at the crossroads are being tempted by the MS-13 gang life.

“Oh, I want to be popular so I’m going to be in the gang,” said one teen.

“And if you do say no? They beat you up and punch you and everything,” said another.

Many are placed with relatives or sponsors in Brentwood, Central Islip and Hempstead, often feeling isolated at school and at home.

Suffolk’s sheriff is now forging a partnership with police and politicians from the children’s home countries

“Going to El Salvador, first thing I realized what a beautiful country it is,” said Suffolk County Sheriff Errol Toulon. “But it’s strife with gang issues, they are corrupt, they are killing people.”

Desperate to flee poverty and crime of their homelands, many are now in human caravans marching toward the border.

Rodrigo Avila of the Salvadorian National Assembly, a former police director general, was invited to speak at the Long Island event. He warned some gang members are in the mix, trying to lure and keep the allegiance of parentless kids.

He shared one father-son experience.

“The father talked to him and said don’t join the caravan,” said Avila. “He tried to lock him up in the house but he escaped later in the afternoon and joined the caravan – and he’s 14-years-old.”

A dangerous situation, says Avila, and more reason for shared intelligence between nations. Salvadorian police say MS-13 is carrying out violence ordered by gang members in both the United States and El Salvador.