In what is being hailed by many as a rousing, inspiring and respectful speech, President Trump took a moment out of his first ever State of the Union address to honor the parents of a pair of teen girls who were beaten to death by members of the MS-13 gang back in September of 2016.
Evelyn Rodriguez’s daughter Kayla Cuevas, and her 15-year-old friend Nisa Mickens were killed in a Long Island neighborhood that has become known synonymous with MS-13 violence. Police detailed that both teens had significant injuries to the head and face, as well as cutting injuries, and died of blunt force trauma, according to reports.
“These murders show a level of brutality that is close to unmatched,” Suffolk County police commissioner Tim Sini told CBS at the time.
“Here tonight are two fathers and two mothers: Evelyn Rodriguez, Freddy Cuevas, Elizabeth Alvarado, and Robert Mickens,” Trump said. Their two teenage daughters — Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens — were close friends on Long Island. But in September 2016, on the eve of Nisa’s 16th Birthday, neither of them came home.”
Prosecutors say 16-year-old Kayla was targeted because of ongoing disputes with Ms-13 gang members at her school. They say that 15-year-old Nisa was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. The girls’ alleged killers were arrested in March and may face the death penalty for their horrific crimes.
“These two precious girls were brutally murdered while walking together in their hometown. Six members of the savage gang MS-13 have been charged with Kayla and Nisa’s murders. Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors ‑- and wound up in Kayla and Nisa’s high school,” Trump continued.
The President assured the parents that everyone in attendance was praying for them as they grieve the loss of their daughters.
“Evelyn, Elizabeth, Freddy, and Robert: Tonight, everyone in this chamber is praying for you,” the President declared. “Everyone in America is grieving for you. And 320 million hearts are breaking for you. We cannot imagine the depth of your sorrow, but we can make sure that other families never have to endure this pain.”
Most members of the deadly MS-13 gang originate from Central America, with many hailing from the nation of El Salvador. With that in mind, Trump hit home on his strong immigration policy, which he hopes will starve the gang of new members and allow law enforcement to take them down.
“Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminals, to break into our country,” he said. “We have proposed new legislation that will fix our immigration laws, and support our ICE and Border Patrol Agents, so that this cannot ever happen again.”
“I’m not here for anybody’s political gain,” Rodriguez told The New York Times of her appearance at the State of the Union. “I just want what’s right to be done. Everybody should put their political agenda aside and think about what’s going on in our country.”
Kayla’s mother Evelyn, who was invited to meet with the President personally, said she just wants to help fight the gang violence that took her daughter’s life.
“I’m not out for any type of gain for myself,” she added. “It’s always been for the kids.”
“There are days where you feel like you want your world to end, just like your child’s,” Rodriguez explained. “Then you realize you have a new purpose: to fight, so that your child’s death is not in vain.”
Brentwood East Middle School Principal Barry Mohammed said Kayla was an “outgoing student” who was “energetic, charismatic, full of leadership qualities.”
“She loved to play basketball and she loved to be among her friends,” he added. “Nisa was very quiet, had a calm demeanor. She was very loving. She was always there to help and support others.”
Mickens had hoped to become a veterinarian or nurse, and Cuevas wanted to go into law enforcement.
The vicious MS-13 group is present in at least 42 states and Washington, D.C. and boasts more than 6,000 members, according to the FBI.
The group originally operated in the LA area, and are still central players in much of California’s gang culture. “This gang is responsible for murders — both of rival gangsters and innocent bystanders — as well as drug dealing and extortion in many communities in the Los Angeles area,” Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra Brown said in a statement.
“Our motto is justice for victims and consequences for criminals. That’s how simple it is. Prosecute them, and after they’ve been convicted, if they’re not here lawfully, they’re going to be deported,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said when visiting the Suffolk County area of Long Island, where the two girls were killed.
Some have criticized President Trump for using the example of MS-13 to push his hardline immigration policies. “The optics were out of a movie,” Splinter News writer Jorge Rivas wrote of the moment the murdered girls’ parents were recognized by the President.
“The parents were in tears, with one of the fathers holding his fist to his heart. It was an emotional moment that Trump then took advantage of to scare Americans into supporting a border wall and hiring more ICE agents, saying he wanted to “make sure that other families never have to endure this pain.””
Senator Marco Rubio disagreed with this sentiment.
“The bottom line is MS-13 is an evil, horrifying organization that’s killing and hurting people all over the country,” Rubio told CBS today. “Of course the majority of immigrants are not members of MS-13.”
“[Trump] never said they were,” he added. “And my second point is, the majority of the victims of MS-13 happen to be from immigrant families and immigrant communities.”
“MS-13 does not go into Beverly Hills. MS-13 is in communities where other immigrants are living and that is who they prey on and that is who they harm.”