Operation Matador, a major offensive against gangs, especially MS-13 on Long Island, by ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and regional law enforcement task forces, has not only reaped multiple arrests, but has also confirmed what I have been discussing for the past six months — that the unabated and poorly supervised placement of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) from Central America by the Office of Refugee Resettlement feeds the growth of MS-13 in unwary communities.
MS-13 has been implicated in 11 homicides in the past year just in the Suffolk County, N.Y., communities of Brentwood and Central Islip, both of which have received the bulk of UACs placed in New York state in recent years.
HSI Special Agent in Charge Angel Melendez told reporters that ICE not only wants to identify and eradicate gang members from the region, but to identify the "illicit pathways" they are using to enter the United States, including the loosely administered UAC placement policy, where minors are released into the community with no further supervision by the agency.
Of the 45 arrests HSI has made in the past month on Long Island, 39 were members of MS-13, and the bulk of the arrests, 33, were in Suffolk County, according to ICE. Twelve of the MS-13 members arrested originally had crossed the border as UACs and three had Special Immigrant Juvenile status (SIJ).
Melendez said many of the youths came to reunite with family, but that some had come to connect with the gang, which has sought to bolster its ranks in the United States.
The suspects included:
- An El Salvadoran national arrested in Suffolk County with a criminal history of felony assault;
- A Honduran national arrested in Suffolk County with a criminal history of menacing with a weapon and disorderly conduct, fighting, and violent behavior;
- A Mexican national arrested in Suffolk County with a criminal history of felony possession of a weapon, carrying a loaded weapon, and misdemeanor menacing with a weapon;
- A Honduran national arrested in Nassau county with a prior conviction for criminal possession of a weapon;
- An El Salvadoran national arrested in Nassau County with a criminal history of felony attempted assault, disorderly conduct, and misdemeanor harassment; and
- An El Salvadoran national arrested in Suffolk County with a prior felony conviction for criminal possession of a loaded firearm.
I wrote in May that not only is Brentwood one of the highest placement areas in the country for UACs, but if the rate of placements from the first six months of the fiscal year keeps up, this year could be the highest number of placements ever. So while there may be 45 fewer gang members on the streets now, more than 900 UACs have already been placed in Suffolk County since October, so if just 5 percent of these are already in MS-13 or fall prey to their relentless recruiting efforts, there will be essentially no change in the size of the gang, even after Operation Matador.
At the press conference, Melendez remarked that there must be stricter vetting of youths who are allowed to enter as UACs. What he did not mention was the need for better vetting of sponsors, the majority of whom are in the country illegally, and aggressive follow-up after the youths are released from ORR custody. Currently, the follow-up is just a phone call to the sponsor's household that takes place one month after placement.
Melendez said HSI and its DHS, DOJ, and local partners will go after the gang using criminal prosecution and enforcement of immigration laws. This will include revoking members' deferred action status (DACA) and/or special immigrant juvenile status and cancelling work permits granted to those in asylum or deportation proceedings.
It would help if DHS and ORR would also attempt to hold sponsors accountable for their responsibility to supervise the youths and adhere more closely to their legal obligations and parental responsibilities.