Special agent: Schools are 'ground zero' for MS-13 recruitment

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CENTRAL ISLIP -

A congressional subcommittee hearing was held in Central Islip Tuesday with the focus on how to combat MS-13 gang violence on Long Island. 

Among those who testified were Evelyn Rodriguez, whose daughter Kayla Cuevas and her best friend Nisa Mickens were believed to be killed by the gang last September. 

"My daughter, for two years, her life was miserable in school," she said. "There's kids killing kids. That needs to be stopped."

Angel Melendez, the special agent in charge of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations, testified that schools are a breeding ground for gangs – calling them "ground zero for recruitment."

Much of Tuesday's testimony focused on the federal unaccompanied minor program. Thousands of those youths who came over the U.S. border were relocated on Long Island in communities like Brentwood and Central Islip.

"Once here, MS-13 can prey upon the vulnerability of these and other children who may lack family and community ties," said Melendez. 

News 12 reported that federal authorities said 12 of 45 recently arrested gang members are unaccompanied minors. Suffolk Police Commissioner Tim Sini told Rep. Peter King and Rep. Kathleen Rice that more federal funding is needed to provide services to those children relocated here.

"There's no local notification of placement and there's very little funding connected to the program," he said. 

After the hearing, Rep. King said he will ask Congress for additional money.

"If you're going to defeat MS-13, you have to be able to pull these kids away from MS-13. You have to give them an atmosphere where they can learn and not be seduced, threatened or harassed into joining MS-13," he said. 

Police say MS-13 is responsible for at least 19 murders on Long Island in the last year and a half. 

The assistant director of the FBI's New York field office testified that the gang is "a top priority for the FBI" as it expands and employs increasingly violent tactics.
 

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