On July 28, President Trump landed on Long Island, accompanied by U.S. Rep. Peter King, a Republican from Seaford. In a speech before law enforcement officers at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood, our commander in chief declared Long Island “a blood-stained killing field.”
It was the usual hysterical hyperbole that we have come to expect from Trump. And, no, we shouldn’t take it with a grain of salt. The president’s visit did nothing to solve the gang crisis in central Suffolk and Nassau counties. He came to instill fear of and loathing for the Island’s growing Latino community.
There is no doubt that MS-13, otherwise known as Mara Salvatrucha, has infiltrated Long Island, particularly in the Brentwood-Islip area. The presence of the gang in suburbia must not be ignored. Over the past year and a half, 17 area murders have been attributed to MS-13.
The trouble with Trump, however, is that he rarely, if ever, provides context. During his Long Island visit, he cherry-picked facts to make the case for his nativist agenda while ignoring the significant contributions that immigrants from Latin America have made here.
Fact: In Suffolk County, the number of crimes dropped from 21,076 in 2015 to 19,877 the next year — a 5.7 percent decline. That was the smallest number of crimes committed in a single year since 1975, when Suffolk started recording such data, according to The Wall Street Journal. Violent crimes, including murder, robbery and aggravated assault, dropped by nearly 11 percent.
Fact: Crime in Nassau County fell to its lowest level in 50 years — 50 years! — in 2016, when 26,153 crimes were recorded. Violent crimes fell 9 percent.
Nassau police estimate that there are about 700 gang members in the county, roughly 350 of whom are active. That’s in a county of nearly 1.4 million people.
Clearly, the facts do not comport with the apocalyptic vision of Long Island that Trump detailed in his speech. Moreover, his visit sent a chill through Long Island’s Hispanic communities. He made little to no effort to credit the tens of thousands of Latino Long Islanders who — day in, day out — abide by the law, go to work, pay their taxes and contribute to society.
Fact: Without immigration from Latin America, Long Island would be in serious financial trouble. Of the roughly 2.8 million people living in Nassau and Suffolk counties, some 526,000 are foreign-born. Latin Americans make up the largest portion of the Island’s immigrant population, 41 percent.
There has long been much talk about how Long Islanders are leaving because of the high cost of living. But the Island has actually seen a net gain in population because of immigration. Though Suffolk County’s population remained largely unchanged between 2000 and 2012, Nassau’s increased by roughly 78,500, according to census data.
Without the steady stream of immigration that Long Island has seen in recent decades, we would have experienced a net drop in population — and in the workforce — which might have driven up wages for employers, forcing many of them to move to less expensive regions.
Freeport is known for its expansive and diverse community, with immigrant business owners — many from Latin America — who have revitalized the West Merrick Road and North Main Street sections of the village. On a single block, there are restaurants, barbershops, boutiques, nail salons and delis offering a mix of Latino and American products — all owned by Latinos.
Freeport High School’s 2017 valedictorian is the daughter of a Colombian immigrant who fled to the U.S. to escape the narco-violence that has plagued her homeland. This child of a proud, hard-working immigrant will attend the City College of New York to study medicine this fall.
Why does Trump never give a speech celebrating such stories of hardship and triumph — of the American dream? We can only speculate.
We can say this: Police say there is no way to arrest your way out of the gang crisis. Long Island needs more federal funding for after-school programs in our poorest communities to ensure that young people have safe places to go — places where they can learn and grow and thrive. And we need federal funding for anti-drug programs so the gangs’ primary source of income — the drug trade — is cut off.