Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone held a press conference on Monday, April 24th to discuss his position on eradicating MS-13. Bellone made it clear that he will use a comprehensive approach but also wants to protect the immigrant families on Long Island that have been targeted by the gang and emphasized that the majority of the immigrant children in Brentwood and Central Islip are successful. “I want to be very clear that the overwhelming majority of kids in the system who are coming here, again to escape the most desperate of circumstances are successful, are reunited with families and successfully integrated into the community,” Bellone explained.
Bellone explains that while local law enforcement will play a part, other services will be needed to be effective: “In order to achieve our objective over the long term of eliminating this criminal organization from our county. We are going to have to do more than just traditional law enforcement.”
He also says federal funding is necessary to put gang prevention and intervention programs in place, as well as mental health services to help immigrant children arriving to these communities to feel supported. It is when there are gaps in resources that MS-13 comes in and fills those gaps, often recruiting these children at the same time. “We have to do whatever it takes to eliminate this criminal organization from our shores,” he said. “And do so in a way that is, in my view, respectful to our values as a nation, that respects the kids who are escaping desperate circumstances, and protects our communities as well.”
“We do need the resources because [students] come to us very early and they need counselors and social workers in order to fill that gap and provide that work for our students,” Dr. Levi McIntyre, superintendent of the Brentwood school district explained. “That way when the gang calls we know we are strong enough to resist the gang temptation.”
Superintendent of the Central Islip School District Dr. Howard M. Koenig agreed that programs are the best ways to keep kids safe and supported, but added that funding is often an issue on many levels. “The problem is that the programs that we had in place that gave us the ability to provide these [social work] services are being cut.”
Bellone discussed working with the federal government on a notification system. “It’s hard to know what to prepare for or how to best focus your efforts and your resources to protect kids in the community if you don’t have that information.” However, he was unclear what information would be shared about these children, to whom would it be provided and how could it be used by various agencies.
Watch the full press conference below: