MS-13 is a gang that started in California in 1980. It’s comprised of young Central American men, especially those from El Salvador. Cliques are present all over America and Central America, including a particularly active one right next door in Suffolk County. This clique and recent events surrounding it are the basis for this op-ed.
To make a very long story short, Henry joined the notorious El Salvadorian gang MS-13 at the age of 12. His initiation included being beaten for 13 seconds, choosing a gang name (he chose “Triste,” meaning “sad”) and finally, killing a man.
In return, the gang provided protection for him from rival gangs, kept his family fed and paid for his school uniforms and supplies. At age 15, he was threatened with “disappearing” if he did not leave the country in 24 hours, so he legally entered the United States to join his mother on Long Island, and was forced to participate in an MS-13 clique after being recognized by another member.
Now, at the age of 19, he faces deportation and, if he is forced to return to El Salvador, certain death for becoming an informant for the U.S. government and assisting them in arresting numerous members of MS-13.
It is wrong, low and disgusting that a legal immigrant can be deported for acting in the interests of not only his safety, but the safety of anyone residing in an area where MS-13 is active. In no world should the government turn against someone who actively assisted them in the identification and arrest of several dangerous gang members.
Henry went on trial on April 5 to determine whether he would receive asylum and witness protection or be sent back to El Salvador, where he will be killed by MS-13 for turning in other members. The trial was subsequently postponed so as to gather more evidence of Henry’s cooperation with the F.B.I. A GoFundMe called “Save Triste’s Life” was started by his lawyer, Bryan Johnson, and has raised nearly $10,000 in four days. Following the four-hour-long trial, Johnson reported that the judge “appeared to be on our side.”
Let me now address a few qualms some may have. “He’s a criminal! He’s a gang member!” The aforementioned murder Henry committed during his initiation can be classified as being under duress, and that any information he provided to police while believing that he would receive witness protection cannot be used as evidence in his trial. “He’s still done bad things, so he should be deported!” First, that’s very ignorant and rude.
Second, Henry came to the United States legally, declaring himself at the U.S. border. Third, deporting him would violate the United Nations Convention Against Torture, as he would be marked for death – a slow, brutal death – the moment he arrives in El Salvador.
This is not the morally gray story of a bad man trying to turn his life around, or an embittered snitch, or someone thinking only of himself. Henry was, and still is, a child thrown into a turbulent and violent world because he had nowhere else to go.
To have never joined the gang would have put him and his family in El Salvador in danger. To have never immigrated to the U.S. would have meant death. To have cut ties with MS-13 on Long Island would have also resulted in death.
This is the story of a boy with no other options who did what he had to do to survive. If he is granted asylum, he will live to see 20, he will have a chance at a normal life and he will no longer have to associate with a gang.
Henry has said that he would like to move to Los Angeles or Spain, and I sincerely hope that he will have that opportunity.
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