Morrelly Homeland Security Center
Bethpage, New York
2:05 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you. Great to be here. Oh, do I know this location well. That beautiful Bethpage State Park. I spent a lot of hours there. Great place. Thank you very much and good afternoon.
We’re here today to discuss the menace of MS-13. It’s a menace. A ruthless gang that has violated our borders and transformed once peaceful neighborhoods into bloodstained killing fields. They’re horrible people, by the way.
Thank you very much to Secretary Nielsen; Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — Rod, thank you; Acting ICE Director Tom Homan, who is going to be — I hope you’re going to be with us for a long time. I’m hearing he’s going to go into a little bit of an easier job, but you won’t be happy. You won’t be happy. What a job you’ve done. Thank you very much, Tom. And Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan. Thank you very much. Thank you, John.
And we also have a couple of folks with us today — Laura Curran, Nassau County Executive. Wherever Laura may be. Hi, Laura.
THE PRESIDENT: How are you, Laura? (Applause.) Thank you very much.
I want to thank a very good friend of mine for a long time that this area knows very well, the great Peter King. Thank you, Peter. Thank you. (Applause.) Doing a good job. And he’s fully got my endorsement, even though I assume he has no opponents. I don’t know if he has any opponent. Nobody would be that crazy to run against Peter. (Laughter.)
Congressman Lee Zeldin. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you, Lee. Great job you’re doing. Thank you for all your help.
And Congressman Daniel Donovan, really known as “Dan,” right? Dan Donovan. (Applause.) He’s been a friend.
For their great leadership in combatting MS-13. Also, Erin King — you know who I’m talking about — Sweeney. Where’s Erin? Where are you? Where are you? Hello, Erin. How are you? A little bit of a relationship.
REPRESENTATIVE KING: That’s my wife, Rosemary, next to her.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, Rosemary. Hi, Rosemary. See, you say, “That’s my wife.” I know that’s your wife. (Laughter.) Nice to see you. Thanks, Rosemary. Thanks for being here. Thank you very much, Erin. It’s a great honor to have you.
We’re also grateful to be joined by Commissioner Geri Hart of Suffolk County, and Commissioner Patrick Ryder. Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you very much. And they know this threat probably as well as anybody.
We’re especially moved today to be joined by families who have suffered unthinkable heartbreak at the hands of the MS-13 gangs. I’m truly honored to be joined again by the courageous families who were my guests at the State of the Union. That was a special evening. Elizabeth Alvarado, Robert Mickens, Evelyn Rodriguez, and Freddy Cuevas. Thank you. Thank you all. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you.
Their beautiful daughters, Kayla and Nisa, were murdered by MS-13 gang members, many of whom exploited glaring loopholes — and we have the biggest loopholes of any country anywhere in the world. We have the worst immigration laws of any country anywhere in the world. But they exploited the loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors. They look so innocent; they’re not innocent.
We are praying for these families with us today, and we pledge to honor the memory of those you lost with action and resolve — and I’ll just add another word — with great success. And thank you very much for being here. Thank you so much. Really appreciate it. (Applause.) And they will not have passed in vain, that I can tell you.
MS-13 lives by the motto, “Kill, Rape, and Control.” That’s actually their motto. “Kill, Rape, and Control.” Last month, MS-13 reportedly called for its members here on Long Island, where I essentially grew up. You know Jamaica, right? I always said, “Long Island.” It’s very close. To call and to see what happened is just incredible.
But they killed a cop for the sake of making a statement. They wanted to make a statement, so they killed a cop, a policeman. Here in Nassau County, MS-13 gang members were charged with killing and hacking up a teenager. And police officers just told me four other young men were brutally murdered recently by MS-13 in Suffolk — Suffolk County.
In Maryland, MS-13 gang members are accused of stabbing a man 100 times, decapitating him, and ripping out his heart. Police officers also believe the MS-13 members beat a sex-trafficked 15-year-old girl with a bat 28 times, totally disfiguring a beautiful young woman.
In Texas, two MS-13 gang members were charged after kidnapping, drugging, and raping a 14-year-old girl. They then murdered her and somebody else.
Crippling loopholes in our laws have enabled MS-13 gang members and other criminals to infiltrate our communities, and Democrats in Congress refuse to close these loopholes, including the disgraceful practice known as catch and release. That’s — you catch them, you write up a little piece of paper that’s meaningless, and then you release them. And they go all through the country, and they’re supposed to come back for trials. They never come back — or very rarely. It’s the rare person that comes back.
Democrats have to abandon their resistance to border security so that we can support law enforcement and save innocent lives. And I noticed recently, where Democrats — Nancy Pelosi, as an example — are trying to defend MS-13 gang members. I called them “animals” the other day, and I was met with rebuke. They said, “They are people.” They’re not people. These are animals, and we have to be very, very tough. (Applause.)
So I’d now like to turn this over to a man — really, he has been a great friend of mine — a tremendous supporter — and I’ve always been a supporter of his, Peter King. He does an incredible job, and nobody knows this situation and this horror show, and these laws — how bad they are — worst in the world — better than Peter King. Peter.
REPRESENTATIVE KING: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you very much. And let me say what a — (applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
REPRESENTATIVE KING: Mr. President, what an honor it is to have you back here on Long Island. As you say, you’re a neighbor. You were in Suffolk County last year; Nassau County this year. And you, more than anyone in the country, is highlighting the evil of MS-13. So I congratulate you. I thank you for leading this effort. It’s a — they are horrible, vicious, rotten murderers. And you are really leading the charge. And thank you for doing this. Thank you for assembling all of us here today. And thank you for mobilizing all the efforts of the federal government behind this. So thank you very much.
Also, on a somewhat jocular note, let me tell Laura Curran — I want to thank her — I’ll be giving visas to Donovan and Zeldin, to let them into Nassau County. (Laughter.) I promise you I’ll get them out of here as soon as I can. Okay? (Laughter.)
CURRAN: They can stay as long as they want.
REPRESENTATIVE KING: Okay. This is a very serious issue. To have these family members here. I’ve worked with them; I know what they’ve gone through.
And for anyone who wants to minimize the danger of MS-13, just ask Commissioner Hart, Commissioner Ryder. They know firsthand exactly what this is all about.
Let me also commend ICE for the great job that they do. Tom is here and he’s done excellent work in Suffolk County and in Nassau County, working with our Nassau and Suffolk Country Police.
So, Mr. President, you have experts here that can talk. I just want to, again, thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you’re doing. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much, Peter. (Applause.)
I do want to say, and I have to pay great tribute to ICE and Border Patrol. But ICE came in and they are doing a job. We are taking them out by the thousands.
Now, if we had laws that were proper, they wouldn’t be coming back to the extent, but they’ve taken them out by the thousands. And it’s way down, but it’s still far too much. And it’s unacceptable.
So I thought maybe what we’ll do is we’ll go around the table, say a few words, if you might. We’ll start right here. You have done a fantastic job and we appreciate it.
Let’s go. Why don’t we start? Thank you, John.
CRONAN: Thank you, Mr. President. On the very day that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was sworn in, you signed an executive order with a very clear directive: reduce crime in America.
And it is my honor to support carrying out your mandate by helping to bring MS-13 to justice and by working to dismantle this gang that’s terrorizing our communities. I know people in this room are very familiar with the horrifying stats, but MS-13 is one of the most violent and formidable threats that our country faces today.
MS-13 leaders may operate out of prisons in El Salvador but the gang is alive and well in our streets. It is estimated there are 10,000 MS-13 members in the United States; 2,000 are estimated to be right here in Long Island. And their ranks are continually being refilled with new emissaries from El Salvador. MS-13 is infiltrating our high schools, our middle schools, even our elementary schools.
The gang’s brutality, as you alluded to, Mr. President, just cannot be captured by words. You mentioned their motto, “Kill, Rape, Control.” They live by that motto. They kill — murdering their victims, murdering them with machetes, chains, knives, bats, firearms. They rape — gang-raping young girls, selling them for sex. They control — killing not just rival gang members but also fellow MS-13 members who are suspected of being cooperators with law enforcement or violated gang rules.
For example, in March, an MS-13 member named Elmer Lopez pled guilty to murdering a fellow gang member who was suspected of cooperating with law enforcement. Lopez and his cohorts brought their victim to a secluded wooded area in Brentwood, maybe about 15 miles from here, where they took turns slashing and stabbing him to death. Mr. President, the victim’s skeletal remains were discovered more than four months later.
A few months ago, an MS-13 member, Raul Landaverde-Giron, who also is facing federal charges for illegally — allegedly illegally reentering the company [sic] after he was deported. Landaverde-Giron was convicted of murdering someone who had fled El Salvador, for Maryland, to avoid a kill order from MS-13. Landaverde-Giron and his fellow thugs lured that victim to the woods, shot him in the head, and stabbed him in the face and neck. For his role in the murder, Landaverde-Giron received a promotion from MS-13.
Well, Mr. President, thanks to our criminal justice system, he will also be receiving a mandatory life sentence. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Great.
CRONAN: And to give one other example, Mr. President — last November, Yerwin Hernandez-Ordonez, a Honduran national, who was illegally in the United States, was sentenced for his role of an MS-13 murder in Virginia. Hernandez-Ordonez oversaw two young MS-13 recruits. They were tasked with murdering a rival gang member to gain admission into MS-13.
After two failed attempts to shoot the victim, the victim almost managed to flee. But Hernandez-Ordonez made sure he didn’t get away. He chased him down, caught him, and brought him back. The two recruits then shot their victim in the head and were initiated into MS-13 later that same day.
Mr. President, these and the disgraceful examples that you mentioned in your opening remarks are just a small sample of the unspeakable violence of MS-13. But we are hitting MS-13 hard, with targeted prosecutions across the country, including right here in Long Island. We are surging federal prosecutors, surging them to the border to prosecute immigration offenses; surging them to U.S. attorneys’ offices around the country to prosecute violent crimes. We are working with our partners in Central America — work that has resulted in thousands of arrests of MS-13 members.
We want these savages incapacitated before they can try to cross over our borders. We cannot — and we will not — permit our country to be a playground for MS-13 to pursue its murderous mission. Dismantling violent gangs is a top priority of this Department of Justice, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and it will remain such as we continue to use all law enforcement tools at our disposal to rid our streets of the scourge of MS-13.
Thank you, Mr. President. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, John. Great job. Thank you. (Applause.) Great job, John.
HOMAN: Mr. President, I want to — first of all, I want to thank you for your leadership on this issue. I want to thank the Secretary. I couldn’t ask for two better bosses that take border security and public safety more seriously than you all.
I also want to give a shout-out to law enforcement officers in this room, the ones that carry a badge and gun every day and put their lives on the line for the communities. We got a President — unprecedented support for law enforcement, and I thank you guys. As a 33-year veteran of law enforcement, you’re doing a tremendous job. You got the backs of law enforcement. You got their six recruits here. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
HOMAN: Now, I’m much older and blinder than John, so I got to wear my glasses, because there are some important numbers I want to read to back you up on the statements you made coming here, because a lot of times you’re questioned about it. So I want to read some numbers.
I want to thank Rod and John for partnership. They are stepping up. We are prosecuting more MS-13 members and gang members in the history of ICE. ICE is working hard to ensure the United States does not become a safe haven for these criminals. HSI — our criminal investigators at HSI have continued to attack the efforts of MS-13 here, domestically and abroad, which I’ll speak to in a minute.
We have doubled our arrests of MS-13 members under your command, President Trump. In FY17, the first year, HSI and ICE arrested 896 MS-13 leaders, members, and associates. They totally arrested — they arrested another 4,800 total gang members throughout the United States, to include MS-13.
Since FY16, ICE has removed nearly 11,000 criminal gang members. Specifically about New York — the target of MS-13 on Long Island is one of the primary goals of ICE because New York is under attack. With a cooperative focus on sources and intelligence — our on ongoing initiative — we arrested, in the past year, 300 MS-13 criminal arrests here on Long Island, and more than 40 percent of those we have verified are unaccompanied alien children. So it is a problem. There is a connection.
MS-13 terrorizes communities and they commit violent crimes, as you said. I know you’ve been taken a hit on your comments about animals and MS-13, but I think you’re being kind. Animals kill for survival; MS-13 kills for sport. They kill to terrorize, and there’s a big difference there.
We want to push our borders South, so we’re attacking MS-13 where the command and control is in El Salvador. Our attaché offices in Central America are working very closely with the federal police in El Salvador, along with El Salvadorian prosecutors. We have arrested and taken off the streets in El Salvador hundreds of MS-13 gang members.
We just did a trip down there. We took local law enforcement and some prosecutors down there to meet with the federal police and the prosecutors who we’ve totally vetted, they are part of our vetted unit, and we trained them. We went to one of the prisons down there, where 70 percent of the population in that prison is MS-13 gang members. These are the worst of the worst. And because of ICE’s work along the Bureau and Department of Justice, our intelligence and our evidence supplied to the officials in El Salvador put most of their people in that prison — which, if you think about it, we prevented many of these people from getting to the United States, and took them out right there in El Salvador.
We’ll continue to do that. We’ll continue to work along our Salvadorian and Central American partners to play the away game, and stop most of them before they get there. I can tell you that ICE is not going to stop making this a priority until we totally dismantle this organization. We won’t rest until that’s happened.
So I want to thank you again for your leadership. ICE is on the job. ICE isn’t going away. New York, despite your Governor’s comments about ICE, ICE has done a lot for this state, and we’ll continue doing a lot for this state. We’ve taken nearly 5,000 criminal aliens off the street in New York, and we’re not going anywhere. We’re going to be here and do our job, and try to make this the safest place that the community is going to have.
Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Tom. (Applause.) Thank you, Tom. Great job. Thank you.
Rod. Thank you.
ROSENSTEIN: Thank you, Mr. President. Under your leadership, Attorney General Sessions has made violent crime and illegal immigration a top priority for the Department of Justice, and we’re making tremendous progress. We’re working in coordination with Homeland Security and with our other federal partners, as well as state and local law enforcement.
The feedback that we’re getting, as Tom mentioned, around the country, is that state and local law enforcement appreciate their partnership. It’s an unprecedented level of coordination with federal law enforcement around the country, particularly on this challenge of violent crime and MS-13.
John mentioned that some of the recent cases, the horrific cases we’ve handled in the Department of Justice. I saw this firsthand when I was U.S. Attorney in Maryland in 2005. We began using federal racketeering statutes to try and dismantle the MS-13 gang, and we had tremendous success for quite a few years.
What we found in recent years is a resurgence of MS-13 in Maryland, in the D.C. area, and it was fueled by illegal immigration and particularly by the challenge of unaccompanied minor children. And there are several loopholes in federal law that facilitate this. They create a particular problem for Homeland Security and for us, with regard to unaccompanied children who enter the United States illegally.
The first is that they are not eligible for expedited removal, which means that — you know, most aliens who enter the United States, if they’re caught within 14 days, within about 100 miles of the border, they can be removed in an expedited basis without needing to see an immigration judge.
But under federal law, all unaccompanied alien children, regardless of nationality, they have to go before a judge. They cannot be subject to expedited removal proceedings.
The second challenge is that almost all unaccompanied children are released from custody, even if they want to go home. And the reason for that is that there’s an exception for aliens from Mexico and Canada. They’re permitted to withdraw their applications and return home.
But for other countries, even if those aliens request to go home, we’re not allowed to do it. We’re required to put them in immigration proceedings. And in addition to that, Homeland Security is required to turn them over to HHS within 72 hours, as a result of federal law. It can take months and sometimes years to adjudicate those claims once they get into the federal immigration court system, and they often fail to appear for immigration proceedings. In fact, approximately 6,000 unaccompanied children each year fail to appear when they’ve been summoned. They’re released and they don’t show up again.
The third challenge is a consent decree entered by the government in 1997, which continues to burden our efforts to enforce immigration laws. Under that consent decree, INS, at the time, agreed that illegal alien children would be subject to special rules, special judicial supervision that handicaps DHS’s ability to detain and promptly remove unaccompanied alien children.
And the fourth challenge that we face is that, once released, as you mention, many of them never come back again. With very few exceptions, once those unaccompanied alien children are released into the community, even if they’re gang members, they will generally remain in the United States. They frequently abscond and fail to appear for their removal hearings. Approximately 90 percent of all removal orders each year result from a failure to appear at a hearing.
And according to Homeland Security statistics, less than 4 percent of illegal alien children are ultimately removed from the United States. So most of them, once they’re released, they’re here to stay.
The consequence of these loopholes, Mr. President, is that, although we’re doing everything we can to combat crime in the United States, we’re letting people in who are creating problems. We’re letting people in who are gang members. We’re also letting people in who are vulnerable. Many of these alien children, who have no parents, no family structure — we’re releasing them into communities where they’re vulnerable to recruitment by MS-13.
And so some of these kids who come in without any gang ties develop gang ties as a result of the pressure that they face from people that they confront in the communities.
So we’re hopeful, Mr. President, that we can get some assistance from the Congress in closing some of these loopholes so that our law enforcement officers won’t have to work so hard, and so we won’t have more victims like Kayla and Nisa.
THE PRESIDENT: And I think that’s great, Rod. And I think it’s happening. I mean, I’m seeing a willingness, even, to a certain extent, by the Democrats. They’re starting to come around, but it’s brutal. It’s brutal. As you know better than anybody, it’s a tough situation. We need the laws enhanced very substantially and very quickly.
Thank you, Rod, very much. Very nice. (Applause.)
COMMISSIONER RYDER: Mr. President, first of all, on behalf of all our Nassau County police officers — and I think I can speak for every officer in this room and in this country — we know we have a President that has our back and supports us every single day when we go out and do the mission that we are tasked to do.
We have about 500 identified MS-13 members in Nassau County. About 250 of them are active. And we do that through — everything is evidence-based and through intelligence-led policing.
Last year, in 2017, we had six kids that were murdered in Nassau County by MS-13. Of those six, one was shot in the face, one was shot in the back of the head, four of them were violently butchered by machetes, and buried in shallow graves throughout our county.
Those victims, three of them were 15 years of age. Two of them were 18. Out of the six people that committed these murders, nine people were arrested last year. Seven of the nine that were arrested were undocumented in this country. So we have a population of 1.3 million people here in Nassau County; 17 percent Hispanic makeup. I’ve been to these communities. I’ve spoken to these people. I’ve addressed them at town hall meetings. And our pop cops have been there. They’re good hard-working people in the community.
Ninety percent of the crime is done by ten percent of the population. MS-13 is making up a good percent of that 10 percent in that community. We need to go out at an intelligence way to attack it. We need to go out with evidence-based approaches.
What I would like to see here in Nassau County — we have a great partnership with Homeland, we have a great partnership with ICE. They’ve done nothing but support us. Our U.S. Attorney’s Office and our District Attorney’s Office has been great in the prosecutions.
We need to get a little bit better on our intelligence sharing and information, and that starts at the border where that information can flow up into the states that we know who, why, when, how. And again, that gives us a better way to approach it, so we don’t burn the bridges and the relationships with those communities that we spent so much time building, that we — they want to come to us and support us.
And the youth programs in those communities — whether it’s a police youth academy, a PAL program — they’re the kids that are being influenced and turned into the gangs, as you heard before. They’re the kids that we need to reach now, not later — now — before some of these gang members push them into it.
Most of the murders that have occurred here in Nassau County were done because somebody wanted to get into the gang, and part of the initiation was to kill and take a body. And these are innocent kids that we are out there, lured into these wooded areas with alcohol and the potential of sex and drugs.
If our intelligence is better, if our evidence-based approach is better, and our community relations stay strong, we can make a difference and turn the tide on that.
And we’re going to look to you for all that help, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Patrick. That’s great. I appreciate it. (Applause.) Thank you. Great job. Really good. You’ve done a fantastic job.
Robert and Elizabeth, we’re going to save you for a couple of minutes. We want to hear from a couple of these politicians first. Right? (Laughter.) And then we’re going to get to the real story. We appreciate it.
Dan, go ahead.
REPRESENTATIVE DONOVAN: Thank you, Mr. President. And I’d remind you, we’re public servants; we’re not politicians. (Laughter.)
But thank you for your leadership here. This is our second visit.
THE PRESIDENT: You are. (Laughter.)
REPRESENTATIVE DONOVAN: This is our second visit here to Nassau County. This is the second time that, through your leadership, you came here — because this community is hurting.
Behind you is a sign that says, “Secure our borders, protect our communities.” That’s one sentence with a comma in it. If we do one, we achieve the other. And it’s the one thing that you’ve been trying to do for the 15 months that you’ve led this nation. We need border security. We need tougher immigration laws. We need to help communities like this.
The examples — I was a prosecutor for 20 years, Mr. President. I was eight years in the Manhattan’s DA’s Office. I was Deputy Chief of the Narcotics Bureau where we saw vicious gang assaults and murders. I was 12 years as the Staten Island District Attorney, as you know. I have never seen the viciousness like you just described in your opening remarks.
We’re here to help. These brave people — Pat, John, Rod, the folks on the ground — they’re enforcing laws, but we have to make the laws. And we learn a lot by listening. That’s why I’m so grateful that you’re holding this roundtable because a lot of what Lee, Pete, and I will do when we go back to D.C. is take the information we learn here and implement them into our laws.
On the way up with you, the Secretary was describing to us how after someone, a criminal, is convicted and they’re illegal — if their home country doesn’t take them back in six months, we have to release them back in the community. Well, what country would take back these people that our fellow crime fighters have just described? Nobody would take them back. We have to change those laws, Mr. President.
Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your commitment to protect our nation. And thank you for your support of our law enforcement officers.
THE PRESIDENT: Good. Thank you very much, Dan. (Applause.)
And just before — thank you, Dan — just before we get to the Secretary, I have to say that many of these countries we give tremendous amounts of aid to — tens of millions of dollars. And we’re working on a plan to deduct a lot of the aid, because I happen to believe it’s not so hard. You know, they’ll let you think that they’re trying to stop this. They’re not trying to stop it. I think they encourage people from leaving. They don’t want the people. They don’t want the people that we’re getting in that country.
So we’re going to work out something where every time somebody comes in from a certain country, we’re going to deduct a rather large amount of money from what we give them in aid — (applause) — if we give them aid at all, which we may not just give them aid at all. Because despite all of the reports I hear, I don’t believe they’re helping us one bit. And maybe that’s the way life is, but they’re not helping us a lot based on the fact that we know where these people are coming from.
So we’re looking at our whole aid structure, and it’s going to be changed very radically. It’s already started.
All right. Thank you very much, Dan. Secretary Nielsen. (Applause.)
SECRETARY NIELSEN: Yes, sir. Thank you. I might just talk loudly, if that works.
So I just want to thank you, as always, for your leadership on behalf of the largest law enforcement agency in the federal government. We so appreciate your leadership, your support.
I know Tom, and Tom’s folks do — I always tell them that I will always empower them and support them, but you enable me to do that. So we thank you always for your leadership.
I want to thank the commissioners. I want to thank the members of Congress here. And most importantly, my thoughts and prayers continue to go out the families that are here today. This obviously should never have happened, and we will leave no stone unturned until we combat it.
I do want to say, horrifyingly, to knit together everything that folks have said before: Seven of the thirteen gang members that murdered these lovely girls were unaccompanied alien children that came into the country. And the problem with that is, is they come in, they’re recruited, as was described by the Commissioner, but they also come in and they pay a debt. The smugglers require them to serve in the gangs to pay the debt for the smuggling.
So they’re either forced to join the gangs, or they’re tricked into joining the gangs, or they’re recruited to join the gangs. So there absolutely is a tie between all the loopholes the Deputy Attorney General described and the resurgence of these gangs in our communities.
The other two loopholes I might have just mentioned; one was just mentioned. The other one is that we still cannot bar known gang members from coming into our country. We have to change the law. We know who they are, we know what they do. We do not, under the law, have the ability to make them inadmissible on the face of being a gang member. So we have to change that.
So DHS, as the Director knows, we’re leaving no stone unturned, as I said. We’re securing our borders. We’re building your wall. We’re increasing technology. You’ve deployed the National Guard. We have 3,000 apprehensions that are attributed in addition to the fact that the National Guard is there. We’re enforcing the law.
I also would like to join the Director in thanking everyone here that represents law enforcement for putting your lives on the line every day to help our communities. (Applause.) You have tremendous thanks from all of us.
The arrests, under your leadership, are up 42 percent. So the men and women that you have empowered are out there doing their job every day. We’re cracking down on fraud. We have a 315 percent increase in adults who are using children to pose as a family to come into this country illegally. We cannot have that. So we’re cracking down on fraud. We’re cracking down on adults who pretend to be children to come in, because they know that’s a loophole.
And we’re certainly cracking down on the false asylum. If you want to come here for family reunification, that’s not asylum. If you’re coming here to seek a job, that’s not asylum. Those are not legitimate reasons under the law of the United States. We will not grant you asylum.
We are going after the gangs. Director Homan talked a lot about that. We’re protecting children. We need to protect all the children that do come here. So we’re increasing background checks to make sure that when we do, through HHS, hand over a child to a sponsor or alleged family member, that they are, in fact, either a family member or somebody who is not a convicted criminal, smuggler, or trafficker.
And finally, we’re pressing Congress, and I will continue to do that. I had many conversations on the Hill this week. I have made it my duty. I appreciate the members being here for that reason. But we will close these loopholes, and we will take our communities back under President Trump.
So thank you all for being here. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Kirstjen. Thank you. Great job. Thank you. And thank you for the really great job you’re doing. I really appreciate it. Not easy. Not easy.
REPRESENTATIVE ZELDIN: Mr. President, thank you for coming back, again. This is your second time in less than a year that you’re on Long Island for this purpose. And the message that gets sent to the victims of MS-13 is certainly being heard and felt by them. And the message is being heard and felt by the law enforcement officers here on Long Island, who MS-13 has been threatening. It sends a strong message not only to Long Islanders who care about our community and our public safety, but it also sends a strong message all throughout our entire country. It’s really important when you run for office that you’re able to keep your promises. And the effort that you have been showing to ensure the defeat of MS-13 is incredibly important, and it’s recognized.
I was, last week, in Jerusalem, where we were moving an embassy and a promise was being kept. I was in the Middle East last Christmas, visiting our troops, where ISIS is almost completely wiped off the map in Iraq and Syria. It’s so important for us to keep our promises.
The message is being sent not to just Long Islanders, but all throughout the entire country.
You have to, when wanting to eliminate a threat, be willing to identify it. And what we saw with the reaction to — the California sheriff asked you about MS-13, and you responded immediately to that remark and called them “animals.” And as our Acting ICE Director said, that was a nice way of putting it. But if you’re not willing to even identify the threat, you have no chance of eliminating it. Same thing if you want to get rid of the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic — another promise that you’re keeping.
Locally, we have seen many indictments coming down from a great local U.S. attorney’s office. There is a U.S. attorney here, Rich Donoghue, who I’m a little biased towards. He’s a former 82nd Airborne Division Paratrooper. But we’re seeing indictment after indictment come down here in the Eastern District, and it’s a product of all of the people who are here at this table, who work for them, working at every level of government. And we’re about to hear from Ms. Hart, our new police commissioner in Suffolk. Everyone working together to ensure that this is accomplished is critical.
This issue should transcend partisan politics. And unfortunately, it’s not right now in Congress. Nancy Pelosi recently took nine hours on the House floor to celebrate the humanity and the behavior that encompasses what has torn apart the hearts of our families who are here. As far as sending messages, it’s also an important message to send to congressional Democrats. You have shown a willingness to compromise on this issue, an uncomfortable — you have put your neck way out there. And you’re — in a way, you end up negotiating against yourself when the congressional Democrats just refuse to work with you. It’s obstructionism.
There are people who are in Congress who have pledged to oppose and obstruct everything and anything, saying they cannot work with you, because if they work with you, they’ll legitimize your Presidency. You were elected President of the United States. They were elected to serve in Congress. They took an oath. They need to protect our constituents here, and they need to protect their own. They need to work with you, because you’re putting your neck out there on the line. They need to do it, as well, even if they’re taking a tough vote from their constituency. (Applause.)
As far as policy issues, we stand with you for stronger border security and interior enforcement. We agree that there is a need to end catch and release, to end this use of visa lottery. Beyond just the worst offenses that we’ve heard a lot about are all the other offenses that aren’t the high-profile incidents that we hear about in the national media. It’s the drug trafficking that takes place here on Long Island and elsewhere. It’s the sex trafficking that takes place on Long Island and everywhere all throughout our entire country.
So all these policy issues are really important. Securing entryways is important not just to keep out people who shouldn’t be entering our country illegally, but also keeping things out of our country that should not be entering our country illegally.
And as you know well — and I appreciate your leadership on the heroin-opioid abuse epidemic — that is something that has been a huge impact on Long Island as well.
Finally, we discussed it once before, when you — also, and I like to report back to my constituents: This isn’t just something that we’re talking about while you’re able to come here to Long Island, but also meetings that have taken place at the White House and other efforts that are underway.
But there is a need to have a tool given to our Justice Department, in my opinion, to be able to end our Homeland Security, to be able to revoke the naturalization of someone who, it turns out that they were engaged in gang violence before they received their naturalization.
Or if it’s six months later or two years later, they engage in gang violence, they should have their naturalization revoked. I introduced, after our last meeting, the Protecting Our Communities from Gang Violence Act, H.R. 5065. I look forward to working with you on all of this, and I just really want to thank all of the fine, distinguished people who are here at this table.
And also, to everyone watching at home who is standing with our President, it’s an important message to send: Whether you vote for a President or not, his success is our success as Americans. (Applause.) And as Americans, you should be rooting for this man to be successful as President of the United States. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Lee. Thank you.
And you bring up a name, U.S. Attorney Donoghue. Where are you, please? U.S. Attorney.
REPRESENTATIVE ZELDIN: He’s out of the country.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, okay.
REPRESENTATIVE ZELDIN: Otherwise he would be here.
THE PRESIDENT: I was just trying to figure out why we didn’t introduce him — only because he’s not here. But he’s doing a great job.
REPRESENTATIVE ZELDIN: Yes, he is.
THE PRESIDENT: Good. Thank you very much.
COMMISSIONER HART: Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you for this opportunity to speak with you today on this important topic. I represent the hardworking men and women of the Suffolk County Police Department, and I echo my partner Patty (ph) Ryder’s sentiments to thank you for your leadership on this critical issue.
Just two years ago, in 2016, Suffolk County experienced some of the most devastating and tragic events in our county’s history. On September 13th, 2016, Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas, two beautiful young girls, were killed in a senseless, violent, and outrageous manner. These high school students were murdered shortly after one of the girls had argued with an MS-13 member in school.
Days later, the skeletal remains of three young men were discovered in Brentwood, all of whom are believed to have been murdered by MS-13. Over the next few months, the murders continued, and culminated, in April of 2017, with the quadruple homicide in Central Islip.
These killings shook our communities and sparked a commitment among the Suffolk County Police Department to form a gang eradication strategy to protect our residents and get these MS-13 members off our streets.
As a result, the Suffolk County Police Department has worked extensively with all our law enforcement partners to implement a multi-prong strategy: enhanced and targeted police presence; increased collaborative efforts to gather, collect, and share intelligence; relentless targeting and enforcement of known MS-13 gang members for arrest, prosecution, and removal; federal prosecutions of MS-13 gang members and its leadership, under the RICO Statute; a strong emphasis on community relations; and significant investments in gang prevention and intervention strategies, with a particular focus on unaccompanied alien children.
Since September of 2016, the Department’s multifaceted approach has resulted in 355 arrests of 235 MS-13 gang members. There has not been an MS-13 murder in Suffolk County since April of 2017. MS-13 sustains itself by constantly recruiting new members, and particularly minors. MS-13 members recruit children placed in communities in Suffolk County through the UAC program.
Since 2014, 4,965 UACs have been placed in Suffolk County, making it the largest recipient of UACs in the nation. While the vast majority of these children live law-abiding lives, many of them are susceptible to gang recruitment. They are young, alone; adjusting to a new country, culture, and language; and are seeking a sense of belonging.
This is compounded by the fact that the sponsors of these children, in some cases, prove not to be suitable guardians. The current vetting and screening system of sponsors is in dire need of improvement. It’s vital that, if the federal government places UACs in our community, it’s only after proper screening of sponsors followed by measures to ensure proper guardian compliance. Your assistance in this oversight would be crucial.
As I mentioned, the Suffolk County Police Department has enhanced and targeted police presence and patrols in affected areas in order to effectively destabilize this gang. We will continue to utilize this strategy and assign manpower wherever it’s needed. We will not let up. The Department is committed to eradicating MS-13 from our community.
We are grateful for the commitment and support of the President and the federal government on this important matter. Within the last year, the Suffolk County Police Department received a grant of $500,000, through the Project Safe Neighborhoods, and I thank you for that.
However, we could certainly use additional funding to assist in offsetting additional policing efforts and costs moving forward. I can’t miss out on that opportunity. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: You’re right.
COMMISSIONER HART: Mr. President, we appreciate this opportunity to speak with you. We are committed to having this dialogue further, in order to protect and serve all the residents of Suffolk County. And I thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you very much, Geri. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much. And you’re right, and you should get more.
I think what we’ll do is we’ll close it out with Peter later. But, Robert, I would love to hear from you. Would love to hear from Elizabeth. Maybe you go ahead. Thank you. Thank you very much.
MICKENS: I’d like to say thank you, Mr. President, for all the hard work that you’ve been doing since you got into office, with help eradicating this gang, help bringing some type of peace to our home — even though it’s still not going to be the same.
For those who don’t know, who haven’t been through this, we have to go through every day. It’s an ongoing struggle. It’s not easy for us, especially me, to wake up, look down the hallway, and not see my daughter laying in her bed or me waking her up for school in the morning. It’s very difficult.
You know, we missed two birthdays of hers. This would have been they’re graduating year, this year. And it’s very sad that all these loopholes for all these past couple of years, decades that have been allowing these criminals to come into our country, into our towns, and into our states and do whatever they want, and they feel they could get away with it.
That’s why, Mr. President, I’m glad that you’re at the forefront of this fight and that you’re taking this very seriously. This is a fight, in my opinion, that should have been happening a long time ago. I don’t know why it hasn’t. But thank you for doing what you’re doing right now. And I do honor what you’re doing, and I believe that you are going to do your best to eradicate this gang and all other gangs.
You know, it’s one thing for children to have a little argument, a little fist fight — walk away the next day. But to murder another student, your fellow classmate that you see every day, you’re not — in my opinion, you’re not an ordinary human.
You know, whatever they believe to make them do this, to make them gain recognition inside their gang, then come later on to find out that if they do something wrong they will be eliminated also by their own gang members.
These children are not using they head. I’m not sure if it’s because they’re alone, they’re scared, they’re being pressured. It’s a lot. But these children, they really need to stop hurting each other. Because if these children are our future, we’re not going to have a future. We really won’t.
And I really do believe that, with the President’s help, and Nassau and Suffolk County Commissioner, and to the other 49 states, we will win this war against MS-13 and other gangs, because our streets should not have to be bloodshed. Our streets should be filled with children riding bikes, playing kickball, basketball, baseball, whatever they love to do to make them happy.
Us, as parents, should not have to bury our child. And it’s just hard. It really is hard. You know, there’s people every day who question what the President says, and I try to explain to them the best that I can, but they’re not seeing the bigger picture. It hit home with him because he’s a fellow Long Islander.
And we can’t have children kill children anymore. You know, we — it’s going to be a division amongst communities, eventually, if this doesn’t stop. There’s already a division now between protestors and the ones who are sticking behind our President.
As far as the protestors, they’re not seeing the bigger picture because they’re not living the life that we have to go through every day. If they were to see how we have to live every day, wake up — sometimes I forget and I feel that she is in her room, and I’m ready to go pick on her or do something that a father and daughter would normally do. They don’t — they’re not living through that. They’re not living through the pain where, okay, for a while we could be fine; the next thing you know, something that would spark a memory of our loved one, and it could bring us back to times and places that we try not to remember that’s still going to be in our mind until the — you know, until we rest in peace.
And what they have done to us — we have learned to take a tragedy into something positive. We’re standing here — we’re sitting here, we’re giving speeches, we give comments, we give our concerns, we try to stay active in the community just to reach out to those who may be afraid to speak up or to say something.
And it’s very important for us people in the community to come together with our local law enforcement to help get rid of these members off our streets, out of our schools. Put them where they belong: in prison. (Applause.)
And I would like to say, thank you to everybody up here on the panel for all the hard work and the dedication that you’re putting forward to this.
Obviously, this is a very touching subject because there’s immigration involved, but they have to realize America is based off of immigration. Everybody who came here as an immigrant wanted the American Dream. The American Dream is still there. But if you’re going to come here with acts of violence, you can stay in your own country with that, because we don’t need it here anymore. (Applause.) Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Robert. So beautiful. Thank you, Robert. Incredible. That’s incredible. Thanks.
And the American Dream is coming back bigger and better than ever. You know that.
And I have to say, the protestors, they’re not so big anymore. They’re dwindling. They’re getting it. Everyone is getting it. And what you just said is beautiful, and we appreciate it. Thank you. Really nice.
Elizabeth, would you like to say something? (Applause.) And thank you, Robert.
ALVARADO: Every day I wake up, I feel like she’s coming home. But we have to help our children. We have to educate them. We have to, you know, look into the schools and make sure that your kids are okay.
My daughter was only 15 years old, and she act like a 30-year-old. She already knew what she wanted in her life. And at 5:23, every day of my life, I feel like she’s going to come through that door. But I know she’s not.
And for her legacy, I will try to do the best I can to educate parents, children, little kids. If you need to talk to me, and you’re scared, I’m here. I will always be here, because my daughter wants me to be here. And I miss her very much. There’s not one day that goes by that I don’t think about her.
So I just hope that my message comes out, that we all need to be educated on how MS-13 is. I appreciate everybody’s love and friendship, and meeting the President. Who would ever thought that I would do that? But I met remarkable people in my journey, and I hope they stick by me so that we can put a closure to this. Thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Elizabeth. Beautiful. Thank you, Elizabeth. We will stick by you, too. We will stick by you. Thank you very much.
Freddy, do you want to start? Evelyn, go ahead.
RODRIGUEZ: I want to thank you for having us here today to discuss what’s been going on here on the Island and throughout the United States.
PARTICIPANT: Check the mic.
RODRIGUEZ: Sorry. I want to thank everyone for being here. And, Mr. President, thank you again for listening to us and our needs in eradicating these MS-13 individuals.
My daughter Kayla was a beautiful girl. She had dreams, and they took that away from her. That’s not right. And how these kids were murdered, tortured, is unacceptable. We should not be tolerating this behavior at all whatsoever.
Law enforcement, thank you so much for your hard work and dedication in keeping our kids safe, our communities, and working together as one and helping out each other with information that you guys receive. And again, thank you, Donald Trump, for supporting our law enforcement to the fullest capacity that they need.
You said the other day that these individuals are animals. You’re correct. They are animals in how they kill, how they get these kids and they torture them. No child should ever, ever have to suffer. As parents, we have to endure that pain, that numbness every day of our lives.
My daughter, Nisa supposed to be graduating in a couple of weeks. We’re supposed to be getting, you know, graduation outfits, having a party. We’re unable to do that. No parent should ever have to go through this, at all. We have families here from the four boys from Central Islip: Jose Peña, Jorge (inaudible), Michael, and Jefferson. Their families are suffering every day, but they thank you for your hard work in trying to make the situation a little bit better.
THE PRESIDENT: Please stand. Please. Please. (Applause.)
RODRIGUEZ: People have to realize that these situations originate in school. It plays out in school, and it comes out into the streets. We need to focus on what’s happening in the schools. We have to put in professional educators in there to help the teachers, the school administration how to handle this. They say they know how to handle it; they really don’t.
Two years, as you’ve heard before, I was fighting with the school district — two years, for my daughter — and they did nothing. In fact, they lied in my face.
So we can’t tolerate that behavior either, in the schools. When there’s a problem, they need to notify. When there’s a threat, they need to notify law enforcement immediately. They need to get help. And if they say they have it under control, they’re basically lying in your faces. They do not have this under control.
These people, these individuals, they know what they’re doing. They know how to work. At one point they were called “organized crime.” They know how to work it. We need to stop it.
All originates in school, and it plays out in the streets. And a lot of these kids are innocent. They don’t know, they don’t have the guidance. These kids are coming in unaccompanied. They don’t know who to turn to. They’re afraid. They’re coming from a country that they were afraid with their law enforcement — people they couldn’t trust.
Here, we have to make sure that the resources and the programs are there for them. And the ones that are coming in here unaccompanied, being sponsored, we need to investigate the sponsors to make sure they’re legit. And that one phone call that they do for a follow up — has to be more than that. Home visits — making sure that these kids are going in a straight line, they’re not going off of that straight line. They need to follow rules.
Whether you’re black, white, Hispanic, green, purple, alien out of this space, there is a consequence. When you do a crime, there’s a consequence. You’re not going to get off easy. And especially, especially when you murder a child. That is unacceptable. (Applause.) Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Freddy? Please.
CUEVAS: First and foremost, Mr. President and everybody on this panel — there’s too many names I can say at once — I would like to say, thank you, from the bottom of my heart. This is the third time that you visit Long Island — second time, excuse me — and I appreciate everything and all the efforts that everybody is doing back in D.C. as well.
And also would like to thank Peter King as well, for giving us this privilege to have all the heads of the departments and states to come here and realize the problem that we’re enduring.
My daughter was a beautiful girl. She was a person that was — had achievements, had goals. And those were taken from her. She’s not here no longer because of the situation that these individuals — like you said, I think that you used the correct word, “animals,” that they are — took her away from us and destroyed her dream.
We appreciate everything that’s being done, and we just need to tackle the issue stronger. And hopefully we can eliminate them and make sure that it doesn’t happen again to any of the families or anybody else within our world.
Thank you once again everyone. Appreciate it. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you.
REPRESENTATIVE KING: Thank you, Mr. President. Again, let me thank you for doing this. And let me also acknowledge our Town Supervisor Joe Saladino, who is here today and doing a great job. (Applause.)
And, Mr. President, all I can say is, first of all, thank you for doing this. It’s beyond description the good you’re doing by this. I think this is one of the most important and significant events ever on Long Island because it addresses an issue which local people have been facing for a long time. But for the first time, the federal government at your level — the U.S. Attorney has always been trying, and ICE, and others — but no one from your level has ever, ever given the attention you have.
So I want to thank you very much for what you’re doing. Thank you for your dedication. Thank you for always being there. And they can protest all they want. We’re with you. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Peter. (Applause.)
Well, I just want to — I really want to thank all of the families. And Robert, Elizabeth — so beautiful. Thank you very much. I really appreciate that. That was incredible. And Freddy, Evelyn, thank you very much.
CUEVAS: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Not much you can say other than we are really working hard on this problem. This is a horrible problem. We’re bringing them out, and our people are rougher than them. That’s the only language they understand. It would be wonderful if we could talk nicely and softly, but the only language they understand is that toughness. And, Tom, you’ve displayed it; your people have displayed it. Everybody up here has displayed it. Everybody.
But the records are being set, but they still keep coming in. We need immigration laws. We need strong laws. And we’re going to get them. It’s moving. It’s harder and harder for the Democrats to fight it. Look, I’d like to say it’s just people doing it. They happen to be Democrats. They’re very well unified in this regard, but they’re starting to break up now. Finally, they’re starting to break up.
And the other day was actually a great day, when they were coming to the defense of MS-13. They’re coming to the defense, and that was the end of them because nobody, nobody understood it. Nobody. When they started rationalizing, and — maybe it was the way they grew up. And maybe it was, but we’re stuck with a big problem.
Again, you heard the numbers. You heard what a number of the folks have said. We’re taking them out by the thousands, by the thousands. And they’re being thrown out of the country. They’re being put in jails.
When they’re put in jails, that costs us a fortune for years, and years, and years as a country. But when we throw them out, they go back on the streets; they don’t go anywhere. The countries don’t want them. In some cases, the countries don’t take them. But now, with us, they take them. With the previous administration, they’d say, “No, we don’t want them.” With us, it’s a much different deal. They take them, but you don’t know what they do with them. Do they let them out? Do they put them in jail? Are they incarcerated? They’re murderers, in many cases. Are they incarcerated?
So we’re very tough, but we’re getting a lot tougher. But we do need law changes. We need those laws to change. Because we can be really smart and we can really know what we’re doing — which we do — these are all incredible professionals, every one up here; incredible professionals. But when the laws are no good, the laws are horrible, there’s not much you can do beyond what we’re doing.
We’re down on immigration crossing the border — more than 40 percent. We were actually down 77 percent. Our economy is doing so well, people are coming across the border. The economy is — it’s one bad thing about having a great economy, frankly. But the economy is doing so well that people are crossing the border. In many cases, they’re crossing for reasons of good, but in many cases they’re crossing for reasons of really, really bad.
But these people are incredible people. And I want to thank you all for being here, too. I know what you’ve gone through. I just want to thank you very much for being here.
We are making tremendous strides. We will continue. And in a not-too-distant future, I feel totally confident that this product — this problem will be eradicated. We’re not going to have this problem. I essentially grew up on Long Island. And when I hear Hempstead and Mineola and all of the places that I know so well, that you can’t walk outside — this used to be where you’d leave your doors unlocked, you’d leave your windows open, always. And you have gang members now that are so rough, people are afraid to go outside.
We have these trucks coming in; they used to call them “paddy wagons.” I don’t know what they call them anymore. What do they call them, Tom? But we have the ICE guys coming in, and I’ll tell you something — the ICE guys are a lot rougher than the MS-13 guys. They’re rougher, they’re tougher, and they’re meaner. (Applause.) And they throw them into — I don’t want to mention the name of a town, but a town that I know very well. They throw these guys into these wagons, these rolling jails. And you have people applauding. It’s almost like a war, where you’re getting rid of somebody that’s occupying your nation.
And for me to go through and be in this position, and see towns that I’ve known all my life — I grew up here; I know every one of the towns — and it’s unthinkable that it’s almost like an occupied territory, where your children are afraid to go out, and in many cases, if they go out, bad things happen.
But when you see the scene — and I saw it, Tom; I saw it — of guys being thrown right into these wagons, being taken away, and the crowd is cheering — cheering. And in one way it’s beautiful, and another way it’s terrible that we’re having to even conceivably do that, especially in a place that you’ve known so well all your life that was safe.
I just want to thank the law enforcement, because what they go through and the restrictions that are put on them are incredible: They got to be nice; they can’t be too tough. They have to be gentle. They can’t touch, they can’t do anything. And they do an incredible job. And people understand it.
And to law enforcement — I have to tell you, because I’ve gotten to know the heart of this country maybe better than anybody, and that’s why I’m here. The people out there love you and respect you. You may read a lot of stuff. I will tell you, you are the most respected people there are. (Applause.) And on behalf of everybody, I want to thank you very much for what you do. Thank you. Thank you very much.
3:13 P.M. EDT