East End Congressman Lee Zeldin will travel with President Donald Trump from Washington to Brentwood today to participate in the president’s address to law enforcement officials against gang violence, while a consortium of progressive groups, including many from the East End, plan to hold a rally beginning at noon in Brentwood Park, across the street from Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus, where the president will give his 1:30 p.m. address.
This is Donald Trump’s first public speaking trip to Long Island since he became president. His last visit, to Patchogue in April of 2016 before he was the Republican nominee, was also filled with controversy over his stance on immigration, when he took part in a Republican fundraiser several blocks from where Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero was murdered in a hate crime in 2008.
“The rise in gang violence, which is ruining lives, wreaking havoc, and causing irreparable and devastating harm to families, is hitting home in the most personal and tragic way in Suffolk County, where we’ve seen ongoing violence perpetrated by MS-13 and other Central American gangs taking innocent lives and threatening the safety of our schools,” said Mr. Zeldin in a statement issued Thursday afternoon announcing his plans to travel with the president. “I thank President Trump for making it a priority to travel to Long Island tomorrow to address the administration’s determined efforts to eradicate this violent street gang.”
Nine suspected MS-13 gang members were arrested earlier this month in connection with the April 11 murders of four young men, whose bodies were found hacked to death by machetes in a park in Central Islip. Two of the victims, Justin Llivicura, of East Patchogue and Jorge Tigre of Bellport, were residents of the First Congressional District, while the other two victims, Michael Lopez Banegas and Jefferson Villalobos, of Brentwood and Pompano Beach, Fla., respectively, had come to the U.S. from Honduras to be with their parents and escape gang violence in their home countries.
Since January of 2016, 17 murders in Suffolk County have been attributed to MS-13, which drew the ire of Mr. Trump’s beleaguered Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who visited Central Islip, the home of Long Island’s federal courthouse, in April to declare war on the gang.
Mr. Zeldin, a steadfast supporter of the president, called for an “all hands on deck mission from all levels of government” addressing gang violence, “from the enforcement of our immigration laws, international efforts to combat various related criminal activity, to local efforts to educate and rehabilitate as necessary and appropriate. It’s also imperative that all levels of government work together with local law enforcement, schools, churches, and other community groups, to help tackle this massive challenge. Children are being targeted for recruitment into gangs early in grade school.”
The organizers of the rally in Brentwood Park say they’re concerned about the backlash this effort could have against law-abiding immigrants. They’re planning to live stream speeches at the rally on Facebook here.
According to The New York Times, Mr. Trump is expected in his speech to tout his request to Congress for 10,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, to call for expedited deportation of unauthorized Central American immigrants and to call for federal funds to be denied to ‘sanctuary cities’ that won’t cooperate with federal attempts to detain undocumented immigrants — measures that would affect many immigrants who are not affiliated with gangs.
“We are saddened and outraged to see President Trump seek to use local tragedies for political gain—and particularly to fuel his hateful, anti-immigrant agenda. We say, loud and clear, that, after months of vilifying our communities, he is not welcome here,” the groups said in a Unity Statement issued Thursday. “Here on Long Island, community members are committed to working to make sure our communities and young people are safe. And we are committed to coming together to support youth and families harmed by violence, especially immigrant families ,who have been the majority of the victims and survivors of this violence.”
Mr. Zeldin, in his Thursday press release, was quick to disparage the rally.
“It is greatly unfortunate that some people plan to line the streets in opposition to the President’s visit, shamefully alleging that the President’s motive is to ‘attack immigrants’ and ‘hard working American families,'” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. President Trump and his administration are taking a no nonsense approach at eradicating violent gangs that are murdering innocent Long Islanders and tearing apart families and communities. We should all be working together to eliminate the threats posed by MS-13 and other gang activity. That is of mutual interest for all of us.”
The groups participating in the Brentwood Park rally include Alliance for Quality Education, Action Together Long Island (ATLI), Empowerment Collaborative of Long Island, #Get2Work Long Island, Humanists of Long Island, Long Island Activists, Long Island Civic Engagement Table, Long Island Immigrant Alliance, Long Island Progressive Coalition, Long Island Together, Long Island Wins, Make the Road New York, Move Forward Long Island, Muslims for Progress, National Institute for Reproductive Health, New York Communities for Change, New York’s 2nd District Democrats, North Country Peace Group, Pantsuit Nation: LI Chapter, Planned Parenthood of Nassau County, PEER: Progressive East End Reformers/NYPAN, 32BJ SEIU, SEPA Mujer, Solidarity Sundays of the East End, STRONG Youth, Inc. and Together We Will Long Island.
They’re urging attendees to bring American flags and signs reading LI <3 Immigrants,” “Immigrants Make America Great,” “Love Thy Neighbor.”
“As we commit to repairing and healing our communities, we know that Trump’s divisiveness and xenophobia will not make us safer, nor will it help us achieve the structural changes that long-neglected communities like Brentwood and Central Islip need,” said the groups in the Unity Statement. “To genuinely address the challenges our communities face, we need elected officials to invest in our youth, rather than criminalizing, demonizing and using repressive measures against immigrant communities.”
“Investing in our young people and their communities is our way forward for sustaining healthy and safe neighborhoods for generations to come,” they added. “Community safety is providing young people with a meaningful job, internship, and training opportunities, robust after-school and summer programs, early education, access to quality healthcare, mental health support, and practices informed by the trauma our neighbors have suffered, to support their social and emotional growth. This also means investing and supporting the social integration and well-being of our immigrant neighbors, including legal services and adult education services, to empower immigrant and other low-income parents to provide for their families and better support their children’s development.”