President Donald Trump is slated to talk tomorrow about the vicious street gang MS-13, which has traumatized numerous neighborhoods with a spate of recent gruesome killings.
His attention to this plague is welcome. The MS-13 problem is tied inextricably to the larger issue of illegal immigration. Gang members typically come from Central America, mostly El Salvador. But repairing the nation’s broken immigration system, including deciding what to do with those here without legal status, is a complex problem.
His speech on Long Island is a chance for Trump to move beyond harsh sound bites and offer a nuanced view of how the nation is to move forward. MS-13 is an ugly chapter in the story of illegal immigration but there is more to the tale. Immigrants, including those here illegally, add vitality to their communities. They’re good neighbors, business owners, and workers at jobs others don’t want.
To date, Trump has used MS-13 to demonize all who are here illegally and justify ramped-up efforts to deport them. When he talks about “the animals that we’ve been protecting for so long,” as he did Tuesday in Ohio, he conflates the gang with all those who have come here looking for a better life. No one has been protecting MS-13. There are few among us who don’t want these killers deported and their enablers, who may be citizens, put behind bars.
Similarly, federal authorities announced yesterday the arrest of 114 foreign nationals in the region as part of a crackdown on immigrants who have committed crimes or other violations. But Trump’s administration also ratcheted up its war on sanctuary cities like NYC, saying they will be denied grant money if, among other things, they fail to provide advance notice that they are about to release someone in the country illegally. Many cities have resisted and some courts have ruled against parts of Trump’s war, including a decision after an earlier attempt to withhold money that he can’t change funding rules established by Congress.
Most of us know immigrants come here to realize the American dream. Immigration reform, favored by the majority of Americans, is badly needed. Using MS-13 to demonize the immigrant community is not.