Henry, who fled MS-13 in El Salvador by moving to join his parents on Long Island, was found by the gang, and decided to inform on them in exchange for a promise of witness protection. The results are all too predictable:
Now that he had helped the police, Henry assumed his witness-protection papers would be coming through any day. When he turned 18, he started telling friends and teachers he trusted that he would soon disappear to California. Then one morning in August, as Henry was making lunch for his shift at the toilet-paper factory, the federales finally came for him. But they weren’t from the FBI or the witness-protection program. They were from ICE. The same unit that Henry had helped to arrest members of MS-13 was now pursuing a deportation case against him, using the information he had provided as evidence.
Confused, Henry told the agents he was already working with the police. He asked them to call Tony. Instead, after interrogating him, the ICE agents put him on a bus. He watched the Long Island streets he knew disappear, replaced by the high-rises of downtown Manhattan, then darkness as the bus was swallowed by a tunnel to New Jersey. He was headed to an ICE detention center full of young men suspected of being MS-13 members — the very same ones he had snitched on.
One night, as Henry sat in the TV room watching a reality show about aspiring Miami rappers, a half-dozen MS-13 members walked up to him, led by a Brentwood High student who had established himself as the gang’s leader on the ward. The boy called him Triste and demanded to see his detention memo.
Every inmate rounded up in ICE’s anti-gang raids is given a memo explaining why the government has pegged him as a member of MS-13. Most are short and vague. They list things like school suspensions, Facebook posts, and statements by anonymous informants. Henry’s memo is so specific that it amounts to a signed confession. It lists the details that Henry confided to George Politis, the school’s police officer. It quotes his account of the murder he committed back in El Salvador. And most damning, it reveals that he informed on the Sailors to the Suffolk County police. “The subject told SCPD that he has recently had contact with the following confirmed MS-13 members,” the memo says, listing the names of El Fantasma and another Sailor. Instead of protecting his identity as an informant, the police and ICE had effectively signed his death warrant.
One of the gang members that Henry turned over to Rivera, meanwhile, has been released by ICE. Unlike Henry, he did not admit to being a member of MS-13, and ICE was unable to prove it. All told, a quarter of the 200 immigrants rounded up in ICE’s anti-gang operation on Long Island last year have been released because of insufficient evidence. So Henry is marked for death and slated for deportation, while the gang members he helped his handler target go free.
“Just for having talked, all this is happening,” Henry says. “They were asking for help, and I gave them all these names. So how am I here?”
Talking about his memories actually seems to ease Henry’s fears as he imagines what will happen next. If he is deported, anyone who takes him in would be putting themselves at risk. Back in El Salvador, he watched gang members stake out the homes of suspected traitors, then kill their brothers and cousins when they stepped outside. Even if he is granted asylum and returns to Brentwood, the gang will likely kill him unless he gets help relocating.
The thing is, Donald Trump and his allies don’t give a shit about MS-13 and its victims. As Drier observes in her extraordinary story, it was mass deportation of Salvadorans from L.A. that led to MS-13 becoming what it is in the first place. It’s a point of demagoguery he can use to justify violence against immigrants, and that’s it. As a wise man observed, God I hate these people.