Op-ed Written by Congressman Lee Zeldin (NY-01).
Long Island, NY - October 31, 2017 - All around the nation, gang violence has affected us in a most tragic and unforgiving way. It has torn apart families, claimed countless lives, and turned once peaceful communities into dangerous neighborhoods. The Central American gang MS-13 in particular has caused irreparable and devastating harm, especially for us here on Long Island.
Only six months ago, four young men, two of whom were residents of the First Congressional District, were brutally murdered by this vicious gang is a senseless act of violence. MS-13’s brutality truly knows no bounds. However, this is a fight which can be won. The federal government is taking a no nonsense approach to eradicate violent gangs, including an announcement just last week that the Department of Justice would be designating MS-13 as a new focus within the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF). OCDETF is a nationwide effort that utilizes the resources and expertise of the United States’ leading law enforcement agencies to disrupt and dismantle major drug traffickers.
As a result of the Justice Department’s designation, OCDETF will be able to use expanded capabilities to dismantle this vicious gang. This includes not only the federal racketeering statute called RICO, but also drug laws, gun laws, tax laws, and other means as necessary to put an end to this scourge. The task forces are comprised of our top security and law enforcement officials, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Continued death and destruction only emphasizes the need for the Administration's laser-like focus on eliminating this threat.
Under this designation, the OCDETF will now direct its resources on coordinated, nationwide investigations, targeting the activities of MS-13, while assisting in the Attorney General's efforts to generate indictments against individuals who are members of, or otherwise associated with, this vicious gang. Utilizing FBI and DEA intelligence analysts, the OCDETF Fusion Center (OFC) will support coordinated, multi-jurisdictional investigations focused on the disruption and dismantlement of the most significant MS-13 activities. This gang has shown that it is an urgent, deadly threat; this designation will provide the resources necessary to remove MS-13 members, its associates, and its activities, off the streets of Long Island.
We must be working together with allies at every level of government, especially within law enforcement. It is critical that these heroes, who work tirelessly to protect us and have sacrificed so much in the fight against violent gangs, are provided with every means necessary to take down these criminals. Eliminating the threats posed by MS-13 and other gang activity must remain a top priority, and is a mutually shared concern for all Americans.
This past July, I accompanied President Trump to Long Island to discuss the ongoing effort to eradicate MS-13 in Suffolk County and nationwide. This was in addition to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ visit to Central Islip this past April, when he also addressed the rise in gang violence in our community. Gangs like MS-13 have no place here, and I applaud our allies at all levels of government and in our local communities for their active interest in this dire concern.
As a member of Congress, I have been working hard to ensure our officers are given every tool necessary to carry out their selfless mission. Last year, we passed into law several key pieces of legislation on this front. Some of these bills included the Federal Law Enforcement Self-Defense and Protection Act (H.R. 2137) and Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program Reauthorization Act (S. 125). This progress is important, but there is even more hard work that still lies ahead.
Deadly and disturbing does not even begin to describe some of the horrific crimes committed by this gang, and now more than ever before, we must band together to eradicate MS-13 and all others who intimidate and oppress our communities with violence.
Congressman Lee Zeldin, member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and House Financial Services Committee, represents the First Congressional District of New York.