ProPublica: Teen Who Informed On MS-13 Slated For Deportation Rachel Martin talks with Hannah Dreier of ProPublica about her reporting on MS-13 and the story of Henry, a gang member who tried turn his life around but could be deported by immigration authorities.

ProPublica: Teen Who Informed On MS-13 Slated For Deportation

ProPublica: Teen Who Informed On MS-13 Slated For Deportation

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Rachel Martin talks with Hannah Dreier of ProPublica about her reporting on MS-13 and the story of Henry, a gang member who tried turn his life around but could be deported by immigration authorities.


President Trump put the spotlight on the MS-13 gang when he mentioned the murders of Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens in his State of the Union speech.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: These two precious girls were brutally murdered while walking together in their hometown.

MARTIN: The girls were targeted by MS-13 because of a classmate, named Henry, who happened to be a member of the gang. Henry was required to report any interactions with any rival gang. So when Kayla Cuevas threw him the sign of the Bloods when she passed him at school, Henry reported it to his gang members, and Kayla was put on the MS-13 kill list. It was all too much for Henry, and he wanted out. But his attempt to come forward to federal agents landed him in an ICE detention center. Today an immigration judge will decide if he should be deported back to El Salvador and into the hands of MS-13. Hannah Dreier reports for ProPublica, and she has been following how Henry ended up joining the gang as a kid in El Salvador. She only uses his first name to protect his identity.

HANNAH DREIER: His parents left him there as a toddler, and he was very poor. He says that the gang helped give his grandmother meat for her to cook for his family, and little by little, the gang started sort of getting its hooks in him. They beat him for 13 seconds as an initiation ritual. And then when he was 12, he had to do the last ritual, which is killing someone. And so the gang took him to a coconut grove and pointed to a man who was there tied up and said, if you don't kill this man, we're killing you. And, together with the other gang members, he killed that man.

MARTIN: When he was 15 years old, Henry fled the violence in El Salvador. He entered the U.S. legally and reunited with his parents in Long Island, N.Y. I spoke with Hannah Dreier about the hope that Henry found there.

DREIER: Henry had barely been able to attend school back in El Salvador because you have to pay for a uniform, and he often didn't have the money. But in Long Island, he loved high school. He showed up on the first day of school, and he found out that they had a swimming pool, they had a music program, they had bilingual classes where they taught him in English and Spanish. And he says that that was really the first time in his life that he felt safe.

MARTIN: And then it wasn't anymore when someone recognized him.

DREIER: Yeah. He got through the first year of school, and he had these friends who were just sort of normal kids, also immigrants from El Salvador. But then when he started his sophomore year of high school, he recognized a kid from the gang back home who had been sort of a shot caller, this kid, El Fantasma. And El Fantasma recognized him. And you're not allowed to leave MS-13. Once you're an official member, that's for life. After that, his new life was over. El Fantasma led the other MS-13 members in Long Island in punishing Henry. They beat him again for 13 seconds, and he fell right back in with the gang.

MARTIN: So what was the breaking point for Henry? Because at some point, he decides he can't live with this anymore. He can't live in this life, he can't live with the violence. And he decides to tell a teacher, who then in turn puts him in contact with the police. What spurred him to do that?

DREIER: You know, I think Henry never forgot that one good year he had at Brentwood High School, and he began to feel like these murders were sort of coming between him and the life that he had dreamed of having, just a normal life as a high school kid. He was increasingly horrified at the kinds of things that the gang was going after kids for. People were being killed for things like trash talking in the halls. People were killed for failing to show up to a gang meeting. And he started to feel like if he didn't get out his junior year of high school, he would never get out of this gang.

MARTIN: So walk us through how it is that this young man, Henry, was targeted by ICE and now slated for deportation.

DREIER: Well, so like a lot of high school kids, Henry had identified one teacher who he really trusted, his English teacher. And one day he felt like all of the stress and pressure of being in this gang, trying to get out of this gang, trying to start a new life and not being able to was building up. And he basically wrote a confession to the teacher. The teacher says that she was obligated to take that to the police. And police connected Henry to an FBI gang task force officer, saying that that person could help him maybe get into witness protection. But then all of the information that was gathered from Henry's testimony was just sort of dumped in a file that went to ICE. And ICE put him in the same place that they put all of the suspected MS-13 members. So he's there now with people from his high school, with people from his same gang clique, and they've told him that he will be killed when he's released, whether it's to El Salvador or to Long Island.

MARTIN: I mean, this is obviously going to have a chilling effect, right, that a potential informant - maybe there's another young person out there who doesn't want to live in MS-13, who wants a way out. Is that something that, the authorities that you've spoken to, are they worried about the precedent that this sets?

DREIER: Absolutely. Because when somebody comes forward to help law enforcement, they come forward because they think that they'll be protected. And everybody who sees Henry's case is going to see that that's not the case. Henry was shocked that this happened to him. He says that he deeply regrets ever talking to police. He feels betrayed, and he feels shocked. But, really, this is the way the systems were all set up. The school had a policy of steering kids who needed help to police, and police had a policy of giving all the information they had to ICE. And ICE has a policy of trying to deport everybody who's in MS-13. So there's almost no other way this could have gone, given what the information-sharing policies are right now.

MARTIN: What do you think's going to happen to him?

DREIER: So Henry just turned 19. He started informing when he was 17. He has sounded so resigned and so old. He sort of goes silent as he thinks about his life and the choices that he's made. He often says that maybe he deserves to die. But just this week, I was able to tell him a little bit about the response that's come in after this story ran, and he's really amazed and delighted. A lot of people from the military have written in because he wants to join the U.S. Army, and he asks about that, and he talks about how when he gets out he's going to find everybody's phone number and thank them personally. But, really, his fate comes down to what a judge says later today. And, even if he's released, right now there's not a safe place for him to go.

MARTIN: That's ProPublica immigration reporter Hannah Dreier.

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