On Sunday, Gov. Cuomo announced an $11.5 million initiative to expand programs for young people on Long Island who are at risk of gang recruitment. The funding comes in response to the upsurge in gang violence over the last two years.
After-school programs in gang-impacted communities will receive $2 million in state funding. Currently, the state only funds programs in Hempstead and Uniondale. These programs will be expanded into other communities with the new money.
$1.5 million will be spent over the next three years on locally run programs to educate young people about gangs and teach them how to resist gang recruitment. Hopefully, organizations like Struggling to Reunite Our New Generation (STRONG), with a long track record of work in the Latino community, will be leading recipients of the cash.
$3 million will be spent on social services, particularly services for unaccompanied children. In conversations with the governor’s office, it seems that most of this money will be used for mental health and related services to help these children integrate better into their new communities and to deal with the trauma that they suffered in their home countries.
The state will also spend $5 million on job training for young people, however, this does not address the problem of many of the unaccompanied children unable to obtain work authorization.
The announcement of this set of initiatives is welcome. The state, the counties, and local government did not do enough when the initial flow of unaccompanied children began in 2014. In fact, many local governments illegally prevented the children from even enrolling in school. This discrimination opened the door to recruitment of roughly 100 children by Mara Salvatrucha, better know as MS-13.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Gov. Andrew Cuomo recognized nearly a year ago that an enforcement-only approach to countering the gangs would never work. The governor is to be applauded for making good on his promise to take a multi-pronged approach to this problem. This should both reduce gang violence and improve the lives of the child refugees. It is important that the money get to the communities hardest hit by MS-13 recruitment, and that it be distributed as quickly as possible.
I am concerned, however, with the state’s announcement that a new anti-gang Community Assistance Team (CAT) of 11 state police officers, detectives, and supervisors is going to be employed on Long Island. As far as I know, the state police have never had any major presence, other than patrolling the highways, in the immigrant communities on Long Island. The state police have not met with the immigrant community or its representatives here, and it is unclear what the mission of CAT will be. Immigrants want to know that the state police will be accountable.
I will report more on this set of important state initiatives in the new year.