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a betrayal: how do we help young people escape violence?

May 24th, 2018 | 2 min read

By Matthew Loftus

This deeply-reported story about a young man who tried to cooperate with law enforcement and escape MS-13 is both moving and unsettling:

Henry did his part to aid the federal crackdown on MS-13. In addition to the gang members he reported to Rivera, he shared what he knew about the killings and supplied the names of 11 kids who had been marked for death by the Sailors. That spring, the FBI task force arrested the brothers who led the clique on multiple murder charges.

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.

See also this follow-up, as Henry has received a reprieve and is waiting for another hearing.

This story illustrates an incredibly difficult problem around the world: how do you help children who have been immersed in a world of violence to change and live healthier lives? Whether it’s child soldiers or kids surrounded by violence in American cities, there are numerous children whose lives have been profoundly shaped by violence and who will often grow up to be violent themselves if there isn’t a profound, expensive, and time-consuming intervention. And since many of these children will interact with law enforcement and the justice system, those systems have to be designed with rehabilitation and redemption in mind.

Matthew Loftus

Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at