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CNN: MS-13 Members Say Trump’s Immigration Crackdown Helps Gangs

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Donald Trump spoke about MS-13 today in Long Island, following in the footsteps of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has also recently used the specter of gang violence in New York to bolster his hardline agenda. Trump’s speech today promoted police brutality, claimed that immigration has led to “drugs, gangs, and violence”, and applauded “rough guys” as ICE agents. His words were reminiscent of what he said earlier this week in Youngstown, Ohio, where he described immigrants as “animals” who “slice and dice” people. In the wake of a huge loss on health care and amid continued dysfunction in the White House, Trump has amped up his anti-immigrant attacks.

The problem, of course, is that while Trump and Sessions lump together immigrants, gang members, sanctuary cities, and crime, nothing could be further from the truth. So-called “sanctuary cities” are places that allow immigrants to live freely as long as they don’t commit any crimes. These cities are safer than places that don’t have protective policies toward immigrants, because those without papers feel more confident talking to, reporting crimes to, and cooperating with the police when they know they don’t have to fear deportation.

That’s true when it comes to gang-related crimes as well. For instance, the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office of Immigrant Affairs received over 50 calls last year — this year it’s received two.

At CNN today is a piece on how gang members themselves say that Trump’s crackdown on immigrants is making MS-13 stronger, because immigrants have become too afraid of deportation to report gang crimes to the police. “Margarita” is the pseudonym for an undocumented woman who witnessed an MS-13 machete attack against her son firsthand, but says she’s too afraid to go to the police for fear of deportation:

Several people familiar with MS-13, including two gang members themselves, told CNN they think Trump’s crackdown on immigrants is actually making MS-13 stronger because witnesses are more reluctant to come forward for fear of being deported.

“It’s not like before, where … they (the gang) were more hidden,” said Margarita, adding that a decade after fleeing violence in El Salvador she has never felt more afraid. “People can get deported, so they don’t call the police. So they (MS-13) feel more free.”

“I think it’s emboldening them, because this gives them the opportunity to tell immigrants, ‘What are you gonna do? Are you going to report us? They’re deporting other innocent people … (so) they’re going to associate you with us by you coming forward,'” said Walter Barrientos, Long Island coordinator with Make the Road, an immigrant advocacy group.

Cooperation from immigrant witnesses is key because MS-13 mostly affects immigrant and Latino populations. In Long Island, it’s been Latino families who have been devastated by gang beatings and killings. In Los Angeles, a large gang sweep in May was only made possible with help from undocumented immigrants. As LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said:

The … thing that has been effective is public cooperation. MS preys on the illegal immigrant community. They extort them. They rob them. They rape them. They murder them. Without their cooperation as witnesses, none of this would be possible.

Trump today was met in Long Island by Make the Road New York, an advocacy group which blasted him for demonizing immigrants. As they said in a statement:

We are saddened and outraged to see President Trump seek to use local tragedies for political gain—and particularly to fuel his hateful, anti-immigrant agenda. We say, loud and clear, that, after months of vilifying our communities, he is not welcome here.

Here on Long Island, community members are committed to working to make sure our communities and young people are safe. And we are committed to coming together to support youth and families harmed by violence, especially immigrant families who have been the majority of the victims and survivors of this violence. As we commit to repairing and healing our communities, we know that Trump’s divisiveness and xenophobia will not make us safer, nor will it help us achieve the structural changes that long-neglected communities like Brentwood and Central Islip need.

View some of the tweets from the protest against Trump below: