Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan said at an MS-13 roundtable on Long Island on Wednesday that they “are prosecuting more MS-13 members and gang members than in the history of ICE,” and “working hard to ensure the United States does not become a safe haven for these criminals.”
“Our criminal investigators at HSI have continued to attack the efforts of MS-13 here, domestically and abroad,” he said at the Morrelly Homeland Security Center in Bethpage, N.Y.
In fiscal year 2017, HSI and ICE arrested 896 MS-13 leaders, members and associates, part of a total of 4,800 gang members seized that year throughout the United States.
“The target of MS-13 on Long Island is one of the primary goals of ICE because New York is under attack,” Homan said. “With a cooperative focus on sources and intelligence — our ongoing initiative — we arrested, in the past year, 300 MS-13 criminal arrests here on Long Island, and more than 40 percent of those we have verified are unaccompanied alien children. So it is a problem. There is a connection.”
At the roundtable with political officials, law enforcement and crime victims, President Trump needled critics of his recent branding of gang members as “animals,” saying that “they’re not people — these are animals, and we have to be very, very tough.”
Homan later added to the president, “I know you’ve been taken a hit on your comments about animals and MS-13, but I think you’re being kind. Animals kill for survival; MS-13 kills for sport. They kill to terrorize, and there’s a big difference there.”
The ICE director, who plans to retire this summer, said his agency wants “to push our borders South, so we’re attacking MS-13 where the command and control is in El Salvador.”
“Our attache offices in Central America are working very closely with the federal police in El Salvador, along with El Salvadorean prosecutors. We have arrested and taken off the streets in El Salvador hundreds of MS-13 gang members,” Homan continued. “We just did a trip down there. We took local law enforcement and some prosecutors down there to meet with the federal police and the prosecutors who we’ve totally vetted, they are part of our vetted unit, and we trained them. We went to one of the prisons down there, where 70 percent of the population in that prison is MS-13 gang members. These are the worst of the worst.”
“And because of ICE’s work along the Bureau and Department of Justice, our intelligence and our evidence supplied to the officials in El Salvador put most of their people in that prison — which, if you think about it, we prevented many of these people from getting to the United States, and took them out right there in El Salvador.”
Homan said the agency “is not going to stop making this a priority until we totally dismantle this organization.”
“The feedback that we’re getting, as Tom mentioned, around the country, is that state and local law enforcement appreciate their partnership,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “It’s an unprecedented level of coordination with federal law enforcement around the country, particularly on this challenge of violent crime and MS-13.”
Rosenstein noted that about 6,000 unaccompanied children each year fail to appear when summoned. “They’re released and they don’t show up again,” he said. “…With very few exceptions, once those unaccompanied alien children are released into the community, even if they’re gang members, they will generally remain in the United States. They frequently abscond and fail to appear for their removal hearings. Approximately 90 percent of all removal orders each year result from a failure to appear at a hearing.”
The life situation of an unaccompanied migrant can leave them open to gang recruitment, he added.
“Many of these alien children, who have no parents, no family structure — we’re releasing them into communities where they’re vulnerable to recruitment by MS-13,” Rosenstein said. “And so some of these kids who come in without any gang ties develop gang ties as a result of the pressure that they face from people that they confront in the communities.”
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen added that not only can young migrants get traditionally recruited, but “they also come in and they pay a debt.”
“The smugglers require them to serve in the gangs to pay the debt for the smuggling” she said. “So they’re either forced to join the gangs, or they’re tricked into joining the gangs, or they’re recruited to join the gangs.”
Nielsen decried a loophole in which “we still cannot bar known gang members from coming into our country.”
“We have to change the law. We know who they are, we know what they do,” she said. “We do not, under the law, have the ability to make them inadmissible on the face of being a gang member. So we have to change that.”
The DHS secretary said that, as the department goes after the gangs, “we’re protecting children.”
“We need to protect all the children that do come here,” Nielsen said. “So we’re increasing background checks to make sure that when we do, through HHS, hand over a child to a sponsor or alleged family member, that they are, in fact, either a family member or somebody who is not a convicted criminal, smuggler, or trafficker.”