In recent years, the transnational gang MS-13 has taken advantage of our porous borders and legal loopholes, bringing violence, fear, and suffering to communities across the country. Several of those communities are in Suffolk County, New York, which has seen approximately 38 percent of all murders between January 2016 and June 2017 linked to MS-13. Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), who represents central and eastern Suffolk County, recently introduced legislation to address several of the very policies that have allowed MS-13 to prey on his constituents.
H.R. 5065, the Protecting Our Communities from Gang Violence Act, would revoke the citizenship of people who acquired citizenship through naturalization and became involved in gang activity either ten years prior or within ten years of becoming a citizen. As Congressman Zeldin stated upon introduction, “United States naturalization is a privilege not a right, and those who have had this privilege bestowed upon them must respect and uphold the laws of our land.”
President Trump has launched an aggressive campaign against gangs in the United States, mostly notably, MS-13. Nonetheless, as U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Lee Francis Cissna explained to the President at a roundtable earlier this month, there is nothing in current law that would make someone ineligible for naturalization based on their gang affiliation alone. As a result, USCIS may grant known gang members lacking criminal convictions a pathway to citizenship.
However, one of the general requirements that an applicant for naturalization must demonstrate is good moral character. This character is measured against the standards of an average citizen in the community where the applicant resides. While some “character flaws,” such as being a drunkard or adulterer, can bar an applicant conditionally; others, such as being a murderer or a human trafficker, can bar an applicant permanently. Under H.R. 5065, an individual’s gang affiliation—either prior to or within ten years of naturalization—would serve as prima facie evidence that an individual is not attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States and as such, be sufficient to not only prevent, but revoke naturalization.
H.R. 5065 would also prohibit naturalized gang members or affiliates from filing a petition for, or assuming care of, unaccompanied alien minors (UAM). When Detective Sergeant Michael Marino testified before the House Committee on Homeland Security last summer, he highlighted how detrimental these placements could be by stating, “It is clear that MS-13 and the rival gangs target these children for recruitment. They become a high-risk group because they are young [and]alone in a new country…” Therefore, this bill is a crucial step towards eliminating a multi-generational gang issue where gang members sponsor UACs to recruit them for gang activities including drug dealing, human trafficking, and murder.