The New Yorker investigates a humanitarian dilemma on Long Island, New York, where Central American children who immigrated illegally to the United States without an accompanying adult are caught between the violence of the MS-13 gang and the fear of deportation. More than 120,000 children from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala arrived at the southern border of the U.S. between 2014 and the end of 2016. Ranging in age from 6 to 17, they made the journey without their parents, traveling along routes controlled by smugglers, thugs, and crooked cops. The risks were outweighed by the dangers of remaining at home, where gang wars raged. The U.S. government allowed the children to enter the country, but they were immediately placed in deportation proceedings.
About a third of them would eventually be granted some form of asylum. In the meantime, the government tried to place the children with family members who already lived in America, but many communities didn’t want the newcomers. The hostility was especially pronounced on Long Island, which since 2014 has received 8,600 children. Most of them were placed in Central Islip and Brentwood, in Suffolk County, where they are subjected in school and on the streets to harassment from MS-13 members. “These new kids are just dropped into this mess,” a teacher in Brentwood said. Paul Pontieri, the mayor of Patchogue, said, “Take a 13-year-old who isn’t an English speaker. Unless he’s so bright, and unless his family life at home is incredibly structured, there’s no way he’s getting through high school.” He said, “Fear, at a certain point, becomes anger. You can see it building up.”