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When Jeff Sessions Came to Long Island

 

When Jeff Sessions came to Long Island last week he wasn't here to help. The killings of four young Latinos, presumably by the notroious Mara Salvatrucha gang, was a local tragedy that Trump's Attorney General was exploiting for political gain. 

Soon after the bloody bodies of the four victims were found in a dark park in Central Islip, Sessions took to the media to denounce the murders as the product of liberal "Sanctuary Cities" policies. The problem with that analysis is that Suffolk County, with jurisdiction over Central Islip, is not a "Sanctuary County." Instead, the Suffolk County Police Department does not routinely enforce ICE administrative detainers, but whenever someone is arrested and put into Suffolk County Jail the Sheriff will cooperate with ICE. In other words, anyone allegedly connected to criminal activity is subject to ICE detainers and police reporting.

Unfortunately for Sessions, the facts did not fit the narrative he was pushing of "Sanctuary Cities" policies creating a haven for gang violence on Long Island. But the Attorney General did not let the facts stand in the way of politics. 

Sessions was aided by the media, which depicted Suffolk as a county "gripped with fear." The national media told stories of a dozen Mara Salvatrucha killings in a little over a year and presented the Brentwood/Central Islip community as the equivilent of gang-run cities in El Salvador. That distorts reality.

What the Attorney General and the media missed is that Long Island's crime rate has declined as the immigrant population has grown. In the last year for which statistics are available, Long Island had the 9th lowest crime rate in the country out of 350 metropolitan areas. In a typical year, Nassau and Suffolk combine for a total of around 60 murders even though the counties have a combined population of over 2.8 million people. By contrast, Jeff Sessions's own home state of Alabama has a population of 4.8 million, less than twice the population of Long Island, but has five times as many murders annually. 

Long Island needs help from the Federal government in countering Mara Salvatrucha. According to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Washington can help with programs to assist young immigrants in integrating into their new communities, and with additional resettlement resources for those who arrive here as Unaccompanied Children. What the county does not need is bullying from the attorney general to turn county police into an ICE Deportation Force. As Police Commissioner Tim Sini told me, the police need the cooperation of the immigrant community if Mara Salvatrucha is to be blocked. That can't get that if immigrants see the cops as ICE auxiliaries. 

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