ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Gang violence continues to be a major problem across the D.C. region and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) came to Alexandria to convene a gang violence prevention roundtable. The Virginia senator said he is concerned that President Donald Trump's budget proposal would slash funding to programs that fight the spread of gangs.
Law enforcement, educators and people who live in communities that are getting recruited for gang activity and are also becoming the victims of the crime they spread joined Kaine for the roundtable on Monday.
Police officials warned that politicians need to acknowledge that illegal immigration is bringing a criminal element into Northern Virginia. An 11th grade student named Kevin spoke out at the meeting saying that recruitment is going on in schools by gangs that prey on newly-arrived students.
"They are in the schools,” he said. “People who are like 19 years old or almost 20 years old, these kinds of people don’t really want to study and you can see that in their acts. I have seen people who just come to school for [the] first class and they will skip the whole day, taking with them eight to nine kids.”
“The fact is that not every kid coming across the border is that kid – we all know that,” said Fairfax County Police Detective Ken Compher. “But we also know that not every kid coming across the border is a good kid. So we have to find that mix in between.”
The Senate is about to start debating the new federal budget from the Trump administration. While the White House has talked tough on building a border wall and cracking down on illegal immigration, Sen. Kaine warned Monday that there could deep cuts to the kinds of programs that have been working to stop the spread of gangs.
Kaine said mentoring programs, police outreach, after school programs and even soccer tournaments don't get nearly as much headlines as immigration raids or roundups. But the senator warned if those types of programs disappear, the young people at risk of joining gangs will be left with nowhere else to turn to.
"Somebody asked me, ‘Is the gang problem is getting better or getting worse?” And I said, ‘Well, you know, that’s one of the reasons why I’m here – to learn it,’” said Kaine. “But what I will say is I don't think we are happy with the progress we are making, whether it is getting better or whether it is getting worse. I think we need to be making more progress.”
A police official said while the stepped-up enforcement is an important tool in fighting the gang problem, he also added there is no way we are going to arrest our way out of this.
Last week, Thomas Homan, the acting director for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said police departments honoring ICE detainers would be a big step in the right direction.