Rep. Lee Zeldin at the Riverhead firehouse for a mobile office hours session in January 2018. File photo: Katie Blasl

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) will fly with President Donald Trump to Long Island Wednesday on Air Force One for a “roundtable discussion” about efforts to combat MS-13 and “other violent criminal organizations,” the congressman announced in a press release this evening.

Zeldin and fellow Republican congressmen Peter King of Seaford and Dan Donovan of Staten Island, will travel with the president for the meeting at the Morrelly Homeland Security Center in Bethpage.

“From the vicious machete attack of four young men in Central Islip, to the childhood best friends brutally murdered by MS-13 in Brentwood, our community has witnessed the indiscriminate brutality of gang violence firsthand,” Zeldin said in the press release.

The president has said Long Island is “loaded up with MS-13” and boasted that federal ICE agents have “liberated” Long Island towns.

“These are animals and we send these guys out and we liberate those towns,” Trump told a campaign-style rally in Moon Township, Pennsylvania on March 10. “We liberate them. Hillary wouldn’t have liberated those towns, we liberate those towns and the people are cheering. It’s like a war. It’s like if you got liberated as a country,” Trump said.

ICE agents have conducted two known ‘general targeted enforcement action’ sweeps across Long Island this year, mostly detaining and arresting undocumented men in public places.

In February ICE arrested 41 people in New York as part of a national action. In April, a six-day sweep called “Operation Keep Safe New York” resulted in at least eight arrests on the East End, and a total of 21 in Suffolk County.

ICE typically provides no information about the subjects of such actions and it is not clear whether any of those arrested committed crimes.

Zeldin last month said those scenarios were almost certainly not true.

“You just don’t hear of raids where ICE is going around the East End of Long Island and just rounding up people who are here illegally but they’ve been here for 20 years, they work here. Those narratives — it just doesn’t happen around here,” Zeldin told members of the Long Island Farm Bureau April 30.

On the East End, however in at least four instances, immigrants who have been detained by ICE, didn’t have violent criminal records (See prior stories here and here.)

Zeldin said that ICE’s priority is on MS-13 and on “people who have been deported and have returned, people who have been involved in human trafficking and the sex trafficking that’s going on, drug trafficking and other serious criminal offenses.”

Immigrant advocates disagree and say that even when ICE enforcement actions target gang members specifically, many immigrants who are not related to gangs are swept up in the process.

In March, ICE arrested 24 people under Operation Matador, a joint initiative launched in May 2017 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Transnational Organized Crime Initiative, ICE Homeland Security Investigations and ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations that “combats the proliferation of MS-13 and other transnational criminal gang activity in Long Island, the New York City metropolitan area and Hudson Valley.”

“Since this operation began last year, we have seen a decrease in the amount of violent crime directly related to MS-13 and other transnational gangs,” ICE Deputy Director Thomas D. Homan said. “That is a direct result of the strong partnerships between ICE Homeland Security Investigations, local law enforcement, and our community partners in support of a common goal.”

However, immigrant advocates and family members or attorneys of some of those detained in interviews denied any gang involvement. Instead, they said, some undocumented residents are being erroneously arrested and even deported.

A report based on an extensive field study published last week by the New York Immigration Coalition and the Immigrant and Non-Citizen Rights Clinic at the CUNY School of Law, argues that ICE, with other federal agencies and law enforcement, uses arbitrary methods to profile immigrant youth of color to allege gang affiliation.

“The problem is that the threat of MS-13 is purposely exaggerated to manipulate support for unfettered immigration enforcement in the name of gang-policing, without addressing the effectiveness of such policies or their devastating consequences—the large-scale detention and deportation of Latino individuals,” the report stated.

Also, the report continued, “the Department of Homeland Security does not need to make any showing of gang affiliation to initiate removal proceedings—being undocumented alone is a sufficient basis,” something that was confirmed by an ICE spokesperson on a recent interview.

Farm Bureau members, at an annual “breakfast with the congressman” meeting, pressed Zeldin for immigration reform and a labor shortage they said is hurting their ability to grow or even sustain their agricultural businesses.

Zeldin, like the president, remains focused on violent gangs.

“Every level of government has a role to play in combating the rise of MS-13 and other gangs, and we must crack down on the aspects of our nation’s broken immigration system and other policies that have allowed MS-13 and other gangs to take hold in our communities and stay there,” Zeldin said.

“Furthermore, we must ensure our community’s law enforcement officials have the resources they need to safely and effectively do their jobs on the ground in our communities,” he said.

“Securing our neighborhoods shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and I applaud President Trump for traveling back to Long Island, an area that has been hit hard by gang violence, to hear directly from those most impacted,” he said.

The president was on Long Island last July when he gave a speech at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood, where he called on Congress to fund the hiring of 10,000 more ICE agents to crack down on undocumented immigrants.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.