Feature Interview

Mara Salvatrucha-13 “MS-13”

An Interview with Congressman Peter King
By Daniel Del Valle, George Beck, and Joseph Uliano

On May 23rd President Donald Trump traveled to Bethpage, New York to head a roundtable discussion pertaining to the vicious MS-13 and their increased violence toward innocent children living in communities. Among those present included, Rep. Peter King, Rep. Dan Donovan, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Nassau Police Commissioner Pat Ryder, Suffolk Police Commissioner Geri Hart, and Deputy Attorney General Ron Rosenstein. Also present and perhaps the most impactful were the parents of two murdered teenagers, 15-year-old Nisa Mickens and 16-year-old Kayla Cuevas, who were subjected to the brutality of MS-13 and their infamous use of machetes prior to their deaths.

After hearing a heartfelt testimony from the parents, President Trump pledged to do everything in his power with the assistance of Federal law enforcement to rid MS-13 from communities such as Nassau and Suffolk, New York and elsewhere in the United States that are plagued by crime and violence at the hands of MS-13.

Following the roundtable discussion, we sat down with Rep. Peter King for an exclusive interview to learn more about MS-13 and what actions are being taken to rid them from our streets.

Blue Magazine: How much of a threat is MS-13 to New York and the rest of the country?
Congressman King: MS-13 ruthlessly terrorizes and brutalizes communities. Between 2016 and 2018, this gang has been responsible for more than 20 murders on Long Island alone. They disproportionately affect the youth of immigrant communities on Long Island. With the steadfast support of President Trump, Federal, state and local law enforcement have intensified their efforts to eliminate this threat and I believe we have made significant progress. However, this gang is embedded in communities so it will take time, effort and resources to fully eradicate them.

I am concerned about an alleged MS-13 directive in April to “take out a cop” on Long Island in response to the arrest of an MS-13 leader. On the one hand this indicates law enforcement has made real progress in this fight, but on the other hand, this is a troubling sign of how the group could adapt as the operating environment becomes more challenging. I am also worried about reports my staff heard during a trip to el Salvador last year that MS-13 leaders were frustrated with U.S.-based members not being violent enough and had plans to start sending more violent members to the U.S.

We have to maintain a maximum pressure campaign to eliminate this gang from our communities and send a clear message that they cannot find a safe haven anywhere in this country.

You recently reported that 70% of MS-13 arrests consisted of unaccompanied juveniles who crossed our borders, would you say this is also a national average?
The FBI and ICE are working with State and local law enforcement across the country to step up enforcement actions against MS-13. There are an estimated 10,000 MS-13 gang members in the U.S. active in over 40 states. We have heard from law enforcement across the U.S. and in El Salvador that the gang has been using the Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) program to move members into the U.S., as well as a pool of youth from which to recruit.

With over 4000 unaccompanied juveniles flocking to the New York region, can we assume MS-13 is taking part in human trafficking and recruiting?
There is ample evidence indicating MS-13 has and continues to exploit the UAC program. MS-13 gang members have used this program to infiltrate our borders. They also recruit from this population of vulnerable children once they have gained entry into the country and are placed with a sponsor family. We have to close loopholes in our immigration policies to shut off this important pipeline of recruitment for MS-13. I have introduced legislation to require more thorough vetting of both UACs and their U.S. sponsors for possible gang ties.

What impact is MS-13 having on public schools in your district and how are the schools dealing with it?
In my Congressional District, schools have been a hotbed of MS-13 activity. I have visited multiple schools and met with school officials, as well as families. During one school visit, I was told of a particular hall-way that was known as the “MS-13 hallway” and other students and teachers did not venture down there. Many of the MS-13 linked deaths in my District are linked to schools. Tragically, on September 13, 2016, two Brentwood High School students, Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, were brutally murdered a few blocks from the high school. They were reportedly being punished for having offended another student who was a MS-13 member.

Are sanctuary cities becoming a breeding ground for future MS-13 rise ups?
We have seen MS-13 take advantage of our country’s policies in the past, such as the UAC program, and I have no reason to believe they will not exploit these reckless decisions by local officials to further their operations. These policies send a message to gang members here in this country illegally that they can find a safe haven in these jurisdictions to continue their brutality.

Moreover, I am concerned these policies will also create a perception that these cities are weak or soft on law enforcement more generally and will encourage these gangs to feel at liberty to increase their operations and expand their criminal enterprises in these cities. These political officials are doing a disservice to their communities and undermining the hard work being done to eliminate the threat of MS-13, and other transnational criminal organizations, from our shores.

In my District, there is great cooperation between Federal and local police. They share the same goal of identifying and removing MS-13 gang members who are in the country illegally. There are several very active task forces and I commend the law enforcement agencies for working together.

Will tightening up our southern borders, such as building the wall reduce the influx of MS-13?
Border security and closing immigration loopholes are vital for shutting down pathways that allow criminals and contraband into the United States. Gaining operational control over U.S. borders will allow law enforcement to better tackle the threat posed by MS-13 and other border-related criminal activity already present in the Homeland.

In terms of organized crime, how organized is MS-13 and what is the plan to combat this criminal enterprise?
MS-13 was designated as a Transnational Criminal Organization in 2012. While the network is comprised of geographically diverse groups called “cliques,” there are senior leaders in El Salvador and elsewhere directing strategic decisions and consolidating illicit proceeds. Therefore, it is incumbent on U.S. law enforcement agencies to work with our allies to ensure that coordinated enforcement efforts are brought to bear against MS-13. In addition to information sharing, another essential step in the fight against MS-13 is to develop the capacity of our foreign partners to defeat these networks before they become a threat to the U.S. Additionally, legal reform in the U.S. is needed, including allowing gang membership to be a deportable offense. I am proud to be a cosponsor and supporter of HR 3697, the Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act.

President Trump was recently criticized in the media for referring to MS-13 members as “animals,” but then we soon learned that a MS-13 gang member that went by the street name “Animal” received 40-years in prison for killing a 15-year-old boy. What do you say to those still criticizing our President’s position?
I would say they are out of touch with reality. MS-13’s motto is “kill, rape and control.” They kill for killing’s sake. They decapitate people. They terrorize communities. They are evil individuals. I would urge critics of the President’s characterization to meet with families who have been directly affected by this group’s brutality.

President Obama had eight years to deal with MS-13, could he have done more or was a blind eye turned?
I credit the Obama Administration with recognizing the threat posed by MS-13 by designating the group as a TCO in 2012. However, the Administration definitely did not do enough to secure the border and prevent the spike in UACs, which has proven to be a pipeline for expanding the ranks of MS-13.

In closing, you have been advocating against MS-13 and for parents like Evelyn Rodriguez, whose 16-year-old daughter, Kayla, was killed by the MS-13. Explain why this has become a passion for you and what do you say to our politicians that don’t understand just how detrimental MS-13 is.
The tragic death of Kayla Cuevas, as well as her friend Nisa Mickens, is a parent’s worst nightmare. I have met with Evelyn Rodriguez and other family members numerous times, including with the President and the Attorney General. Ms. Rodriguez has taken her grief and become a powerful advocate for public safety and criminal justice in honor of Kayla. I commend her, as well as the Mickens family, for fighting back against the brutality of MS-13. For anyone doubting the danger posed by MS-13 to our communities and to our children, they need to listen to Evelyn Rodgriguez.