The Center has released the first two reports of a series on the issues surrounding the placement of thousands of unaccompanied children from Central America in communities across the United States.
JESSICA VAUGHAN: Good morning. This is Jessica Vaughan from the Center for Immigration Studies. And thank you all for joining us for this teleconference today on new reports that we have out on the crisis of the entry of illegal unaccompanied minors from Central America and some of the side effects, particularly the proliferation and resurgence of MS-13 gang violence in certain communities, with today’s discussion focusing on Brentwood, New York, and also the state of Texas.
We’ve been covering the issue of the new arrivals from Central America, which started in 2012 and then reached crisis proportions in 2014. After abating a little bit last year, it’s now higher than ever. We’ve learned recently, in numbers that have been released from congressional offices, that last week the federal government processed an average of 262 new arrivals of unaccompanied minors every day, up from 237 a day on average in October, which is getting to the point where it’s almost double the rate in 2014, which was 148 a day.
We’ve covered at the center the effects on schools, the cost to taxpayers, what’s going on in other countries, smuggling trade, and the outcomes in immigration court for these cases. But the report we’re releasing today examines another side effect of this influx from Central America, and that is the resurgence of one of the most notorious street gangs, and that is MS-13 and the accompanying violence and mayhem that has resulted.
We’re going to talk here about reports written by CIS fellow Joe Kolb. He’s going to discuss the first two installments of a multi-phase report. He’s working on examining the connection between the influx of unaccompanied minors and the resurgence of MS-13 and other gangs. We’re going to hear from Lenny Tucker, who is the executive director of the Brentwood Association of Concerned Citizens. And we’re going to hear from Sheriff A.J. Louderback from Jackson County, Texas.
Before we launch into the program, I want to mention that we have the reports and a new fact sheet on MS-13 and some other studies that we’ve done in the past up on our website, which can be accessed as we’re talking now at CIS.org/gangcrime. And if you click on that while we’re talking, you’ll, as I said, see the reports themselves, a new fact sheet on ICE arrests of MS-13, including a map that we just posted, and some other information that you can refer to.
So I will give you some more information on our panelists before they speak as I introduce them. But I want to provide some background information based on the years of reporting on this phenomenon that we’ve done at the center. This recent resurgence and influx of people coming illegally from Central America is really the continuation of a phenomenon that started in the 1990s, when an earlier wave of illegal immigrants from Central America arrived.
MS-13 was formed in Los Angeles by Salvadoran thugs and former paramilitary types, who arrived in California in the 1990s illegally and began making a living and quite a profit selling weapons in Los Angeles, and really thrived in the gang environment that was already present in Los Angeles at that time, and at a certain point actively started to spread out – actively sought to spread out across the country, to other parts of California and around the country, in places in particular where there already existed a community of people from Central America, especially people from El Salvador. They went to Northern Virginia, Long Island, the Atlanta area, the Charlotte area, Boston, San Francisco. And we found in our 2008 study that MS-13 had a presence in almost every state in the Union and Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico in addition.
This happened at a time when gang – federal gang suppression efforts had kind of slacked off, and there was an influx of illegal immigrants. It caught local law-enforcement agencies unaware. And while many of them had been dealing with gang – street gangs for a long time, this was different. And there are some commonalities with other gangs in the way MS-13 operates, but one area in which they’re a little bit different is the extreme brutality of some of the violent acts that they have done, and also their extreme loyalty and the hierarchy that they have set up that crosses international boundaries.
The other thing that law-enforcement agencies noticed when they started addressing MS-13 problems in their communities was that almost all of the gang members were here illegally. In Northern Virginia in particular, there was a wave of hackings and machete attacks done by MS-13 members, also rapes and sex crimes that were happening and other criminal activity that really shook the community. And some members of Congress from Northern Virginia sought action and appropriated funds to both the FBI and a new agency on the scene at that time, ICE.
ICE was formed in 2003, and at about the time that MS-13 was causing so many problems, both in Virginia and other parts of the country. ICE wanted to branch out from its very narrow counterterrorism and national-security focus that it had had after 9/11 and launched a program called Operation Community Shield, which was a suppression and dismantling program directed first at MS-13, but also at other transnational gangs that were flourishing at the time.
And ICE was the perfect agency for this mission. Knowing that most of the membership of this particularly problematic gang were here illegally, that made them especially vulnerable to ICE’s law-enforcement authorities and immigration authorities, because not only were they subject to deportation, but there were other – the fact that they were here illegally gave ICE other leverage that it could use in investigation and in prosecution of these individuals, the kind of things that you can read more about in our publication, “Taking Back the Streets,” which is in our website.
So ICE was collaborating very closely with state and local law enforcement in using immigration-law authorities to take these criminals off the street. ICE established itself as the lead federal agency on transnational gangs. Over 10 years they arrested 4,000 members of MS-13 – members, leaders and associates of MS-13 throughout the country. Half of them were from El Salvador. But this was still a drop in the bucket of about at least 10,000 or so that were present in the United States.
I should add that about 92 percent of the MS-13 members that ICE arrested were here illegally. Only a small share of them had green cards or other – or were U.S. citizens. And I also want to note that – and this is on the fact sheet I referred to before, which is on our website – while MS-13 arrests represented only about 13 percent of all of the ICE arrests over this decade, they were responsible for about 35 percent of the murderers that were arrested, which just shows you that they are disproportionately violent than some of the other street gangs that law enforcement has been dealing with.
So because of Operation Community Shield, MS-13 was practically wiped out in some places. Not only did they take the punks off the street, but they also dismantled some very sophisticated criminal enterprises that were being run by MS-13 in San Francisco and in Virginia and other places.
So MS-13 was nearly eradicated in a lot of places, Boston and so on, until just recently, when we have seen the influx of more than 120,000 teens from Central America who’ve been allowed into the country as part of this recent surge over the border. And they’ve gone to the same places where MS-13 was present before, because it’s the same communities with a large Central American population – Boston, Charlotte, Long Island, Northern Virginia, Frederick County, Maryland, and some places in California.
So I want to turn now to – we’ve asked Joe Kolb, CIS senior fellow, to investigate and report on this. And the first installment in his project concerns what has been happening in Brentwood, New York, which is on Long Island. And in the two reports that we’re releasing today, one looks in detail at the policies of the federal government that have enabled or failed to address the connection that some of the new arrivals have to MS-13. And I’m not speaking so much about the catch-and-release policies that have been discussed but the follow-up policies, or lack thereof, by the federal government to monitor what happens to these kids once they are allowed into the country, and also looking at what has taken place in Brentwood, New York in recent years.
So our first speaker is going to be Joe Kolb to talk about his reports. Our second speaker is going to be Lenny Tucker. And the third speaker will be Sheriff Louderback. Unfortunately, Senator Sessions is traveling down by the border today and out of cell-phone reach, as it turns out, so he regrets that he was not able to join us today.
We were also hoping to hear from the mom of one of the teens who was recently murdered in Brentwood, a murder that is believed to be attributed to the MS-13 gang. So I’m sorry we won’t have those two individuals. But we’ve got plenty to talk about.
So let me turn first to Joe Kolb. He is a CIS fellow and also executive director of the Southwest Gang Information Center, which puts out information on gangs in that part of the country and also does training for educators and law-enforcement agencies and the public. And Mr. Kolb is also an instructor at Western New Mexico University in the Criminal Justice Department and an award-winning national-security and criminal-justice journalist covering the U.S.-Mexico border and other national-security issues.
So Joe, please give us the rundown on your reports.
JOSEPH KOLB: Great. Thank you, Jessica.
The Office of Refugee Resettlements of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is, from our research and observation – you’ll have to excuse me; I’m fighting bronchitis today – is perpetrating a gross misinterpretation and mismanagement of the Trafficking Victims Prevention Act, a law which is intended, actually, to protect children victimized by legitimate cases of human trafficking and exploitation.
However, by definition, the majority of the unaccompanied children entering the U.S. from Central America probably over the past four or five years are neither trafficked or refugees. They’re coming here because of their interpretation of the delayed action for childhood arrivals, which they contend gives them permiso or permission to remain in the U.S. when they arrive, which we know is not the case.
Now, interestingly, on a recent trip to New York, where I studied this issue first-hand, I had an opportunity to speak with Pedro Sanchez, who’s the consul of the El Salvadoran consulate in New York City, who confirmed this with me. And he does not deny the fact that his country is consumed with gang violence, OK, which is a contributing factor for some of the migration. But he says that most of – the primary driver, if you will, is this delayed action for childhood arrivals interpretation.
Now, once the children arrive here, ORR’s interpretation not only has – of the Trafficking Victims Prevention Act not only has facilitated this flood of immigrants to be placed throughout the U.S. in communities such as Brentwood, in the majority of the time – and AP did a report, having to file a Freedom of Information Act – they’re not only poorly vetted, but in more than 80 percent of the time these children are placed with people who are in the U.S. illegally themselves.
And most disturbingly, there’s not only poor vetting, as I said, but there’s virtually no follow-up whatsoever once the children are placed. ORR told me on multiple email correspondences that the follow-up essentially, if there is any, involves a phone call 30 days later.
Now, in speaking with a school official from Brentwood, this individual, who, of course, because of the fear that consumes Brentwood – and I know Mr. Tucker will discuss this a little in more detail – she’s saying that essentially she has seen on numerous occasions where a child who was put with an initial sponsor may be shuffled between subsequent residences after that. So it’s really somewhat of a human shell game at this point.
And we all know that in 2014 President Obama called this a humanitarian crisis. But what is escaping the national dialogue is the fact that this has now become a U.S. public-safety and even a national-security crisis.
So what we’re finding is that not only is ORR violating U.S. immigration policy by knowingly placing these children with people in the country illegally themselves; they’re ostensibly placing them with sponsors who are already members of MS-13, which consequently – and I think, Jess, you had mentioned it – you know, it’s the only street gang that the FBI has classified as a transnational criminal organization.
And once they place the child – OK, as I said, they make a cursory phone call – they’re essentially out of the hands of ORR. Now, all of these children are put administratively into deportation. The deportation process, if they even get to the court, there’s a five-year backlog before anything is determined anyway. And there’s no data that I’ve seen that supports the fact that many of these children even show up.
Now, it stands to reason that if they’re put with a sponsor who themselves is in the country illegally, my contention is I don’t see an aggressive effort on that individual’s part to have the child go through the legal process. So after the child is placed, they’re then put under the auspices of Department of Homeland Safety (sic; Security), which, you know, that’s a method of addressing this issue, because when we look at the priority of DHS and ICE, you know, we look at terrorists and criminals, these children are low on the priority scale, as well as their sponsors.
Unfortunately, they don’t become visible until they start these heinous crimes that we’re seeing now on the scale of a Mexico and Central America. And this organization and conflicted and violent culture that these children are coming from has abundantly been played out on American streets. And Brentwood, New York has become a lightning rod of this violence, which, you know, just in September and October they had three homicides, the discovery of the remains of two other teenagers who had been missing since last spring, which really brought a spotlight on the community. But again, still we’re seeing this issue as local problems, if you will.
I k now that the U.S. attorney’s office has intervened in, I believe, five – just recently there were 35 individuals rounded up on Long Island. I don’t believe any of these cases or any of these individuals have been directly implicated in the recent murders. But five of them have been – are being prosecuted federally.
The biggest problem that we’re seeing is like in a case of Long Island. Demographically, Long Island – Brentwood, Long Island has always had a strong Hispanic heritage. Just since over the past maybe five or six years, or definitely since 2014, 3,700 unaccompanied children have been placed in Suffolk County, New York, which cumulatively is the second-highest placement location by ORR of the unaccompanied children.
And according to Mr. Sanchez from the El Salvadoran consulate, more than half of these kids have settled in Brentwood, which is an astonishing number. And not only was the community not prepared. The school district wasn’t prepared, and neither was the police department.
And I don’t want to step on, I’m sure, many of the issues that Mr. Tucker’s going to be discussing, but one of the perversions of this interpretation of ORR, which I’m finding more and more is contributing to the crime status – crime waves that we’re seeing in these communities is – and I ask this specifically of the ORR representative. I said – I asked: Do you make the communities aware that you’re placing these children there, you know, because, A, you’re having an abundance of people being infused in a community that doesn’t have the social or educational resources, or law enforcement resources, but, B, we’re placing children in pockets of our country.
And that’s going to be the focus of the subsequent report I’m going to be working on, is really an interactive map comparing where these children are being placed and the increasing crime rates in these areas, attributable directly to MS-13. But we’re placing these children in these communities who have seen violence on the scale of war. You know, they – in criminal justice we can call it the disorganizational theory, the conflict theory, where they don’t have a foundation of truly what’s right and wrong or the sense of the rule of law. You know, their life has been chaotic from conception to the point that they cross over the southwest border with Texas. So they don’t have any sense of stability and social skills, social behavior.
And even the ones who don’t get consumed by MS-13, which, you know, I did a piece for a homeland security journal a few years back which wound up becoming a harbinger for what we’re seeing now, that the communities that are getting these kids, you better be careful because you’re going to see spikes in violence. And not only with the violence, is that these kids have become fertile recruiting grounds for the gangs, as you said, Jessica, who are already in the country.
Now, this brings us to another part of the TVPA, where, you know, the children who are coming here are supposed to be protected from sexual predators. But there’s a way to interpret the law where these kids are also supposed to be protected from peonage, where they’re working at the behest of other people. In this case, they’re either being directly threatened or implicitly threatened by threats of local gang members who are saying: We know where you family is El Salvador. If you don’t join us, we’re going to kill them in El Salvador. Or they’re also going to be looking for a source of, you know, ethnic association in a new and unfamiliar community.
So we’re seeing that phenomenon. And then the other thing is that the kids who don’t join these gangs, many of them are coming here with what would be classified and diagnosed as clinical PTSD. So our schools, and Brentwood in particular, are not prepared for this. And what ORR is telling everybody is that we’re not going to tell you that these kids are coming into your community so you can prepare and be proactive, because we have to look out for the privacy rights of these children who are being placed in the communities. But in the meantime, we’re seeing the chaos that this philosophy has wrought.
You know, it’s just a mindboggling experience. And you know, while American cities are being victimized, these crimes are being perceived, as I said, as local crimes, and not systematic essentially of the ORR policy, because it’s not enforced. And what’s extremely frustrating to me, and I’m sure with community members in these areas and perhaps I’m sure the Sheriff as well, is that – excuse me – law makers have been extremely silent about this issue.
And I mentioned specific lawmakers in my report who are on the House Committee for Homeland Security that, you know, right now the whole dialogue – and rightfully so; I’m not saying that we have to ignore it – is ISIS. However, that’s a perceived threat right now. Right now, we have an actual offensive, if you will, by MS-13. And I spoke – I’ve attempted to speak, I should say, to the members of the House Homeland Security because technically at this stage of the game these children are part of the – or supposed to be monitored or under the auspices, if you will, of the Department of Homeland Security. And the silence coming out of Washington, D.C. on this issue is deafening.
So you know, it’s a significant problem that ORR is interpreting this law this way, and continues to flood communities with these children. But the communities don’t have the opportunity to protect themselves. And this laissez-faire attitude is detrimental to America. And as one of the mothers when I was at Mr. Tucker’s house last week in New York. And this one mother who had lost a child that, as she said about MS-13, the terrorists are already here. So it’s a national security, public safety crisis that we’re experiencing right now. Thank you.
MS. VAUGHAN: Thank you, Joe. I’m going to turn now to Lenny Tucker, who’s joining us from Brentwood, New York. He’s the president of the Brentwood Association of Concerned Citizens, and has been watching these developments in his town for some time, and working to speak for member of the community trying to raise awareness, but also push lawmakers and law enforcement agencies to adopt effective policies to address the problem.
Lenny, thank you for being here.
LENNY TUCKER: Good morning, everyone. I really don’t know how much more I can add to the conversation after Joe eloquently presented his fact finding. What we’re doing in the – well, first of all, let me start by saying that the community of Brentwood is pretty much at the stage where the residents feel like they’re under siege by, you know, the influx of illegal immigrants and the influence of gangs in our community. You know, recently there’s been a rise in the murders, especially with Nisa and Kayla. And that is just like the actual pimple that has burst and woke up the community once again.
But we’ve been dealing with this problem on a steady basis since 2009, with the, you know, murders of, you know, Christopher Hamilton and with Rigoberto Garcia (sic; Gomez) and a few other people who were murdered back then. It really opened up the eyes of the community. And, like I say, they, for lack of a better term, woke a sleeping dragon where the community rose up and put our elected officials on point and made them accountable for what we felt they needed to address. Like Joe said, you know, Miss Elizabeth, who is the mother of Nisa Mickens, she says the terrorists are already here. And that was the strongest statement that I heard that night.
That being said, I wanted to raise the influence or raise the conversation about the way the immigrants and the border children are coming into our country, because they are influencing and influxing our school district, which creates a greater danger to our own children, because these children are coming from, you know, Central American countries like Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and even so much as Belize, which also had a horrible gang problem right now.
And these kids aren’t all bad, but they have the potential to be influenced into gang situations. They come to this country, as Joe said, basically on the belief that there’s going to be some sort of humanitarian retrieval. And you know, the Obama administration had even said something about giving humanitarian visas. But once they get here, that very rarely happens. And when they fall into these immigration shelters, the system takes them and just dumps them into our neighborhood or, you know, neighborhoods that are called safe havens.
And you know, most of them are either in California or New York, Texas. And they’re pretty much affluent Hispanic communities. Our community alone is, I would say, 75 percent Latino – not to have anything to say against the Latino community, but inside the Latino community and different ethnicities, they’re as different as being Asia and American. They don’t accept each other. They do have a – I would say for lack of a better term, their own civil, you know, disagreements. And that proposes a problem in and of itself.
I really feel bad for what’s going on in our communities right now. You know, we’re getting students that come in, they’re normally between the ages of 14 and 17 years old, and when they’re brought here, like Joe said, they’re being brought to families who are not being verified as being legal or illegal. So when the court date comes up for these people to go before, you know, the immigration and naturalization hearing, the person who is responsible for bringing them there is very rarely the person who is going to do it, if they show up at all.
We’re, you know, pretty, how should I say, troubled by it, you know, because the influx is just so bad that our children don’t know what to do anymore. You know, there is a fear of new kids when they show up, because they don’t know whether or not these guys are friends or foes. And it’s really, really bad. You know, with as large a gang as MS-13 – you know, there’s a concept that MS-13 is recruiting children in high schools. That is so far from the truth. They’re recruiting children in the public schools.
They have these children who were born into the gang. Where do you go if you’re born into a gang? You have no choice but to become part of that because in your lifestyle that’s actually going to be part of your own culture. So we really have to, you know, redefine which way our law enforcement is going to start, you know, enforcing any type of, you know, laws that are going to help with the, you know, eradication of the gang, with the – you know, how should I say – preventive measures, by having people brought into our communities.
And pretty much, you know, we have to address the whole issue. You know, it’s sad that a mother would have to bury her child before her 16th birthday, but these are the type of problems that we’re having here. I’m sorry, I really don’t have – go ahead.
MS. VAUGHAN: Can you tell us –
MR. TUCKER: Go ahead.
MS. VAUGHAN: Can you tell us what happened on your street?
MR. TUCKER: Oh, recently? Oh, maybe about two and a half weeks ago there was a body that was found of a 32-year-old young man who the police department was calling it he was assaulted. We’re calling it was mutilated because, you know, once we found out exactly the extent of the injuries, it has the signature of him being assaulted by MS-13. Their primary signature is chopping you with a machete. This young man – you know, I don’t want to raise his name because his family is still in mourning – but he was mutilated by a machete. One of the young ladies – (inaudible) – young ladies that were found dead in the street also, you know, had visible machete wounds. And then, you know, the signature of that whole crime organization is that they chop up bodies.
So you know, the way it is right now is our police community is trying to minimize the effect on the neighborhood. Even though, you know, there was a dead body found they’re not trying to tell you exactly what happened. The other thing that they’re doing is they’re reporting everything that’s found and letting the community know, you know, exactly the full particulars. We go to these meetings and we get vague excuses and vague examples. You know, I specifically went to a community meeting about a month and a half ago, and I asked about the FBI taskforce being put back into place to combat gang violence or to, you know, at least try to apprehend the gang members in our community.
Now, I believe there was an FBI report that was put out that said 35 gang members were arrested within the last month. That’s something the community really didn’t know. And unless, you know, somebody had inside information, they were not foregoing and telling that. Through our researchers, you know, and – you know, how should I say, our ears to the ground – we did find out that one of the people who was arrested was possibly involved in the homicide of the two females that were killed last week. But that is yet to be confirmed, so.
MS. VAUGHAN: All right. Thank you. Thank you.
I want to remind everyone that we’ll have an opportunity for a question and answer, but I now want to introduce Sheriff A.J. Louderback, Jackson County, Texas. He is the legislative director and past president of the Texas Sheriffs Association, and an active member of the National Sheriffs Association’s Border and Immigration Committee, and is going to discuss the impact and reach of MS-13 in his state.
Sheriff Louderback, thank you.
SHERIFF A.J. LOUDERBACK: Thank you, Jessica and listeners.
Let’s look at outcomes. Let’s talk about outcomes on federal actions, how it impacts law enforcement, how it impacts our citizens. I don’t hear enough about this. I mean, the comments earlier from two of our speakers, where our federal administration is silent. I think that’s absolutely true. You know, law enforcement as a whole, we are not used to seeing – we are inexperienced in seeing the level of brutality, savagery that MS-13 is doing here in Texas. There are many cases in the Houston area. And out of 20,000 gang members in Houston, about 800 of them are MS-13, Mara Salvatrucha.
But the violence that they commit in Houston, Harris County, is unbelievable. And most of our citizens are unprepared and don’t have the knowledge on what’s actually going on with these gang members here in the state of Texas. And having the border here in Texas affords us a unique look into exactly what’s happening to our country, which appears first most of the time here in Texas. But essentially, we have multiple deportees using machetes, scalping, killing 14-year-olds, 23-year-old gang leaders, you know, luring, you know, kids into a road near Addicks Dam and using a machete, it was four of them, to hack a person to death – a 14-year-old boy, who allegedly would not murder his cousin, that they were upset about over some issue.
We have that kind of thing. We have a 15-year-old girl out of Henderson, Texas who was lured on a social media app, K-I-K or Kik, and also MeetMe.com as MS-13 members that were posing as music talent searchers and talent, able to put her in front of certain folks to enhance her talent. Took her captive, sexually assaulted her for two days before she was able to get free, get a cellphone, get a hold of 9-1-1. Again, a two-time deportee, MS-13 members. That’s what we’re faced with, folks. And that’s – and coupled with the fact the situation that law enforcement as a whole puts our – you know, that we find ourselves in in this country today, with the different rhetoric and things that’s going on. When you add the element of transnational gangs into the state of Texas, you’ve got law enforcement that is battling on all fronts.
We need help. We need help from the federal government. The state government’s actively involved. You know, hat’s off to them for what they’re doing. But the federal government plays a role here. And our interaction with law enforcement and federal policies that are in place now are reprehensible. They affect law enforcement. They affect our citizens. They affect our taxpayers. And it’s not a good situation, by any stretch. And, you know, my vocabulary, I get pretty passionate about this because, you know, Texas sheriffs and Texas law enforcement, you know, our citizens are important to us, as probably in all states. But it’s a unique situation here in Texas.
And we need some help. And it’s programs like this, with the people on this call who are listening to this, we got to get the word out. We’re dealing with a level of person – of youngsters, young kids, who, when we get to a crime scene in Harris County and look at this, it’s unbelievable the carnage that’s being created.
MS. VAUGHAN: Thank you, Sheriff Louderback.
Now I want to give those of you on the call an opportunity to ask questions. And I’m going to have Bryan Griffith explain the process for that.
BRYAN GRIFFITH: Hi, this is Bryan Griffith.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
Jessica, if you had anything you wanted to add while we get people into the queue.
MS. VAUGHAN: I did want to refer people to –
MR. GRIFFITH: Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. There we go, folks. All right, now you’ll be able to press star-six and then one – star-six and then one.
MS. VAUGHAN: OK. And again, all of our publications can be found at CIS.org/gangcrime.
MR. GRIFFITH: It’s now also on our homepage if that’s –
MS. VAUGHAN: And on our homepage.
MR. GRIFFITH: So you can just go to CIS.org and you’ll be able to find it at the top middle of our page.
All right, we’re going to go to our first question. I believe the last name is Bedard. Wait till you’re unmuted in order to ask a question.
Q: Hey, great. This is Paul Bedard.
I had a question for Joe. You raise in one of your reports how this concern with MS-13 and all of these undocumented youths coming into the country is linked somehow possibly to our – the situation with Syrians and a lot of the Middle East refugees coming into the country, and maybe the inability to track them. Is that a security worry?
MR. KOLB: Absolutely. And this was a question – can you hear me?
MR. KOLB: OK. I know that we weren’t supposed to ask that, but I just wanted to make sure.
That was definitely a question that I had raised with the spokesperson for ORR because I see how they promote their self-proclaimed diligence in screening these children and then screening the sponsors. But, by the same token, placing the children with sponsors in the country illegally, I specifically raised that question on – probably no less than three times because, as you can appreciate, you’re not going to get a yes-or-no answer from, you know, a federal agency spokesperson.
So essentially what the answer was is the same answer that he had given me with how they vet the Central American children. That’s the same procedure that ORR said they’re going to use for Syrian children.
Now, I consider that a pretty significant issue. If they’re using the same strategy for the Syrian refugees that they’re using for the Central American kids, yeah, I would definitely classify that as a homeland security issue. And when we look at a community like Brentwood, there’s a good possibility that many of these children may wind up there.
Again, this is not racial profiling by any stretch of the imagination. But the reality is, is that ORR places these children in communities where there’s an existing population, whether it’s Central American or a Muslim population.
Now, Brentwood has four mosques and a madrassa, which lends itself – and, Lenny, you can, you know, contribute with this – already has an existing Muslim population. So this could potentially be a significant homeland security issue.
Q: OK, thanks.
MS. VAUGHAN: And, of course, there is no consultation that takes place in placing the unaccompanied minors, nor is there much of a consultative process that takes place with the resettlement of refugees either. Most of the decisions on that are made by the contractors to the federal government, who are putting them, you know, in places like Brentwood and other communities around the country.
Anything to add, Lenny?
MR. TUCKER: I didn’t know my microphone was on. (Laughs.)
MS. VAUGHAN: Yeah, go ahead.
MR. TUCKER: OK. In reference to the Syrian children being refugees, that has been a concern that has been whispered throughout the community for a while, and as you all know, we are always the last ones to find out. We actually believe that that is already being – that is already being in effect, and it is pretty much noticeable on the (students ?) as well because, you know, it’s not hard to identify a Muslim child because of the, you know, garb that they wear.
There is no real definite terms for whether or not, you know, our children are in the community – whether they’re legal or illegal because our school districts, you know, they consider it their privacy, like Joe said earlier. So, you know, we’re pretty much at the mercy of the officials. And we all know that, you know, we already have had confrontations with them and they haven’t been forthcoming. So, you know, we are always the last to find out, and unfortunately it’s normally at the mercy of our community and our children.
MR. KOLB: And I think what’s also worth mentioning here, too – and from a demographic standpoint – is Brentwood’s population is only about 60,000 people, which, you know, for small towns – people coming from small towns, that may sound like a lot, but for a suburban Long Island community, 60,000 is not a lot. So we’re looking at a highly concentrated area where we have these children being placed illegally. So, you know, I think Lenny hit the nail on the head where this may be happening already and we don’t know.
So for a community of 60,000 in the middle of Long Island to have four mosques and a madrasa, going back to the other gentleman’s question, this could potentially be a significant issue. And we’re only – what is it, Lenny, 40 miles from New York City?
MR. TUCKER: Forty miles from New York City.
MS. VAUGHAN: Thank you.
MR. GRIFFITH: OK. We’ll go to the next question, but first I just want to remind everyone because we had that little snafu where I hadn’t turned the Q&A on yet – somebody might have tried to get into the queue but it wasn’t ready.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
I’m going to go to the next person. You will hear the – you will hear yourself being unmuted and then you can begin speaking.
Q: On the fact sheet for MS-13 arrests it shows that areas being affected by these migration patterns include anywhere from Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. to North Carolina and Charlotte and California. Are there any areas in the country that are not being affected by transnational gang migration?
MS. VAUGHAN: Well, there are certainly gangs that are active all over the country, but there are certain – as far as MS-13 is concerned, there are certain hotspots around the country, which you can see on the map, where ICE has been able to focus its efforts, and that’s primarily Northern Virginia; Long Island; around Charlotte, North Carolina and other parts of North Carolina; Boston; Atlanta; Texas, particularly Houston and Corpus Christi; and also in Florida, around Miami in particular. And these we think correspond quite closely to where the unaccompanied minors from Central America have been placed because that’s where there already is – I mean, most of them are coming to join family members who are already here, or to, you know, in the case of a small number of them, you know, to rejoin or join up with gang members who are here and they’re not with family. Sometimes they are actually recruited directly by MS-13 members who are already here, as we’ve seen happen in Frederick County in Maryland.
But, so yeah, there are definitely pockets of places where this has been a big problem. Another area – Santa Barbara County, California.
But there are other transnational gangs that operate in different places – 18th Street, Surenos, Latin Kings, and others.
MR. KOLB: If I may interject to the caller who just asked the question, where are you coming from specifically?
MS. VAUGHAN: I think she’s been muted, Joe, but that was a question from my colleague here at CIS.
MR. KOLB: Oh, OK. Because you know what, I just pulled up the ORR report of placements and I could have given them a better how many people were placed in her community.
MS. VAUGHAN: She’s in Northern Virginia.
MR. KOLB: Oh, OK.
MS. VAUGHAN: Next question, Bryan?
MR. GRIFFITH: OK.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
The person who has the next question should be unmuted shortly.
Q: Yeah, I’m curious about recruitment from Central America. Is MS-13 actually sending out the word to gang members in Central America to come up and to join them in particular cities? And I guess the second part of the question is, I’m also interested in – I mean, I know not everyone has the luxury of moving out of their community and leaving their jobs, but do you see families leaving the community up in Brentwood?
MR. TUCKER: Oh, I am.
Q: That’s funny. (Laughs.)
MR. KOLB: Yeah, I mean, what –
MR. TUCKER: Yeah, I’m actually aggressively looking to sell my house right now. And as Joe can attest, I took a trip to Atlanta about a week ago, and my next stop is North Carolina to see what’s there; because, I mean, I’m not trying to, how should I say, segregate myself, but I am looking to move to a less populated community that has Hispanics in it.
MR. KOLB: Yeah, I would agree with Lenny. This is Joe again. Just before we had our meeting I drove around Brentwood, and just as a background, I – before I embarked on this project I was extremely familiar with the community. I’m from Long Island, I work in Brentwood, a long time ago my wife worked in Brentwood.
I was shocked to see the number of homes for sale in that community. I would bet that if I was to ask a real estate broker whether this was directly related to the violence, they would say no because that’s bad for subsequent sales, but I mean, you walk around, drive around Brentwood, you’ll lose count over how many homes are for sale.
In terms of your question about parents, I’m a boots-on-the-ground reporter. I mean, I literally knocked on doors, and I had spoken with probably a half a dozen families who said that they had transferred their children out of the Brentwood school district to either private schools or into the adjoining communities.
Q: It seems like – but it seems like with the schools you have a circular problem because you have teachers who probably don’t want to teach within the system, and then you – and you have people leaving, but then you’re also losing your tax base that supports the schools.
MR. KOLB: Yeah. And the other issue – and I’m sorry to – I stepped on you, Len, but you can jump in – is that you’re losing your tax base, and what you’re doing is swelling the base that isn’t paying the tax, and you’re increasing the expenses of the school district by having to accommodate these children.
MR. TUCKER: That’s true. And also, just to piggyback, you do have teachers who are actually leaving the school district. As of right now I think the last report I got last week, there was about 500 students who are currently not going to school because of their fear of what’s going on in the school district, and their parents are allowing them to stay home.
Also, what we’re starting to see is we’re starting to see charter schools pop up, and as you know, charter schools are very selective about who they allow to attend their school. There are actually waiting lists right now for parents who are trying to get their children out of the Brentwood public school district and into these charter schools.
Now, how that affects us is the taxpayers’ money that goes through the real estate tax that goes to the school district now are being funneled to the charter schools, who have the option to reject your child. Either way, your money is still funding their school. That’s been a hotbed of issues lately as well.
Yeah, I mean, to give you a brief background on me, I’m an inner-city child. I grew up in the City of New York, and predominantly in Queens and Brooklyn, which is, you know, pretty much a heavily populated area for any aspect in any major metro city. But I moved to Long Island, and particularly Brentwood and the Bay Shore area, to give my family a better life than what I grew up with. And ironically – and I think I said this to Joe when he was in my house – I’ve had more bad things happen to myself and my family since I moved to Brentwood than when I lived in the inner city. Now, that’s pretty sad.
MR. KOLB: Now, what Lenny also didn’t touch on –- and just as a quick reminder, he did mention the young many who was murdered in front of his house or down on his block in October.
But, Lenny, if you could just take a second to describe what happened with Christopher Hamilton in front of your house.
MR. TUCKER: Yeah, that’s a touchy subject, and please take a minute to bear with me because it’s hard.
When Joe asked me the question when he was sitting in my living room, he asked me, well, you know, have I seen crime in the neighborhood firsthand. And I responded to him, you’re sitting in it.
My house in 2009 had a gathering of about 20 children for my 13-year-old son, who just wanted to have something at the house, have some friends over or what have you. Well, apparently, being that some friends were talking about it on social media, it got back to a couple of our, how should I say, gang-member wannabes through MS-13. And they decided to have an initiation rite of passage on my block, in which a car full of gang members came by my house, parked the car in the middle of the block, how should I say, a little bit off to the side, because I live on a corner. And three gang members got out, walked up to the corner, and began firing bullets at my house.
Christopher Hamilton was 13 years old at the time, and he was struck in the temple of his head with a bullet, and he just – he later expired at the hospital maybe about 12 hours later.
Needless to say, I had about 19 teenagers at my house that were traumatized. I have to live with the fact that my house is now a crime scene. Whenever there’s footage on TV about violence in Brentwood, they always show this one small clip, maybe either two or three seconds, of my house, and they refer back to it. And every day that I walk out my house, I’m actually stepping over the spot where a 13-year-old teenager’s blood lay and I had to hose off with the water hose.
On the flip side of it is that our organization was formed because of the death of Christopher Hamilton, and one of our most prominent members on our board of directors is Christopher Hamilton’s mother, Mrs. Erica Boynton. And she has been a very strong influence with us, you know, as far as getting the recognition that Brentwood deserves and trying to combat this gang violence. She is our own personal warrior, and she’s not afraid to stand up because at this point right now, she feels she has nothing else to lose.
Q: Thank you, Lenny. Thank you.
MS. VAUGHAN: Are there – OK. I want to be respectful of everyone’s time. We’re reaching 11:00 and we like to keep these programs to an hour.
So again, I want to thank you all. Thank you, Joe Kolb, Lenny Tucker, and Sheriff Louderback, and all of you listening in. And please get in touch with us if you have any further questions and we will – we will try to answer them.
Thank you all very much, and have a good day and a good weekend.
MR. TUCKER: Thank you very much.
SHERIFF LOUDERBACK: Thank you.
MR. KOLB: Thanks again, Jess. Appreciate it. Bye.