On LI, a Roundtable on Immigrants and Gangs, and a Protest

A protester outside the building on the eastern campus of Suffolk County Community College where Rep. Lee Zeldin held a roundtable discussion on immigration issues. (Photo by Maria Piedrabuena via RiverheadLOCAL)

A closed-door roundtable discussion of immigration issues and gang-related crimes was held at Suffolk County Community College on Monday, hosted by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, and attended by local law enforcement representatives in Eastern Long Island who said that coordination among federal, state, county and local law enforcement agencies needs to improve. Meanwhile, outside protesters objected to the fact that other voices had not been included in the discussion.

Denise Civiletti of RiverheadLOCAL reports that the attendees at the meeting said they need more federal support to deal with MS-13 and combat violent crimes, drug trafficking and human trafficking.

Last year Suffolk County received $500,000 from the Department of Justice through the Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative to reduce gun- and gang-related violence in high crime areas, Zeldin said. Suffolk County Police Chief of Department Stuart Cameron said more grants like that are needed.

Law enforcement is focused on preventing gang recruitment, officials said today. Gangs like MS-13 prey on youth — even children. It’s important to continue to emphasize police presence in public schools to help deter MS-13 recruitment, officials agree.

“The influx of UACs [“unaccompanied alien children”] has provided fertile recruiting opportunities for brutal transnational gangs like MS-13,” Zeldin said.

Protesters said that no local elected officials were invited, nor were immigrant advocacy groups. They were joined by immigrants, SCCC professors and students and private citizens from across the county in a peaceful demonstration that lasted about two hours, Maria Piedrabuena writes in RiverheadLOCAL.

People representing Long Island Jobs with Justice, SEPA Mujer, OLA of Eastern Long Island, Centro Corazón de María, Neighbors In Support of Immigrants, Rural Migrant Ministry and a dozen other groups, spoke during the protest in an impromptu forum, to voice their objections and ire at the congressman not having any immigrant community representatives or advocates at the roundtable on immigration — as well as Zeldin’s stance on these issues.

“Not a single group that serves immigrants was invited. The only people invited were the media, which makes this a clear campaign stunt,” Long Island Jobs with Justice community outreach coordinator and protest organizer Richard Koubek said.

Chants of “This is America over here,” “Roundtable means all sides,” and “Justice for all,” rang out periodically during the protest.

Protesters questioned the meeting’s motivations and said that it focuses exclusively on crimes committed by immigrants, “adding to Trumps’ efforts to criminalize all immigrants.”

They pointed to a study from the Cato Institute, a conservative think-tank, that states that the arrest rate for undocumented immigrants was 40 percent below that of native-born Americans and the arrest rate for all immigrants and documented immigrants was 65 percent and 81 percent below that of native-born Americans, respectively.

The family of one 16-year-old victim of a gang-style execution attributed to MS-13, Justin Llivicura, was invited to the roundtable. Read why protesters said their presence was inappropriate, at RiverheadLOCAL.

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