News 12/Newsday report: 45 alleged LI gang members arrested

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CENTRAL ISLIP -

A 30-day gang crackdown focused on Long Island rendered the arrest of 45 alleged gang members – 39 of which are said to be affiliated with MS-13. 

Twelve of the 45 people arrested in Operation Matador are teens in the federal unaccompanied minor program, according to Homeland Security Investigations agent Angel Melendez. He says 33 of the arrests were made in Suffolk while eight were made in Nassau. 

Melendez granted News 12 exclusive access to the Central Islip command center run by HSI – a division of ICE. 

He says MS-13 is getting "smarter" and their membership keeps growing, with an estimated 10,000 in the United States. Melendez says MS-13 uses organized smuggling rings to bring people across the border into the U.S.

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Melendez says information from the community is key to arresting gang members. He says there are visas and other protections that can be granted to crime victims and informants who may be here illegally.

"There are other mechanisms in place that the government has to support witnesses and victims," says Melendez. "It is important that the community is aware that we are focused on eradicating these MS-13s or any trans-national gang, and we do need the help from the communities."

Walter Barrientos, of "Make The Road New York," says that's a promise he's not sure is being kept. 

"We have worked with a number of cases, of people who were victims or witnesses of gang violence who have not been given those protections on Long Island," he told News 12. "It's something we are grappling with along with other organizations, because the community is stuck between a rock and a hard place."

Barrientos also says he's skeptical of whether all those arrested by HSI are actually gang members.

"They are known for and notorious for providing false information, particularly in recent months, as they have been leading a witch hunt against immigrants," says Barrientos.

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