By Natalia Castro
Since the 2016 election, President Donald Trump has waged war on gangs within the U.S., most notably, the violent MS-13. For nearly 40 years, MS-13 has grown across the United States and Central American to become one of the deadliest gangs in the world. To understand the best method of combatting their continued rise, we must first understand who these people are and how they have grown to take over American cities.
What began in the 1970s as a group of low-level drug users in Los Angeles emerged into a violent and satanic group in the early 1980s. Dara Lind of Vox Media explains, the LAPD’s first reference to the group was of the “Mara Salvatrucha Stoners,” but as Civil War in El Salvador and conflict with Nicaragua intensified it brought waves of illegal immigrants hardened from escaping violence in their home country.
Immigrants from El Salvador flooded areas dominated by Mexican-American gangs and used brutal tactics, such as machete killings, to take control over the area and expand.
The BBC of April 2017 reported that U.S. intelligence data suggested the gang has spread to 46 states and maintains an international presence of at least 60,000 members. The group operates on the motto “kill, rape, control” and has an annual revenue of about $31 million —garnered mainly from drug sales and extortion.
MS-13 has been able to grow due to our lax immigration enforcement. The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) in a February 2018 report notes, while most data on MS-13 suspects does not include immigration status, the Center could conclude nearly a quarter of all gang members are illegal immigrants, these prey on low-income, minority youth to join the gang for protection.
The CIS also found that areas with high rates of MS-13 crime correspond with locations with a large number of Unaccompanied Alien Children who were resettled by the federal government.
In a roundtable discussion with members of law enforcement, experts, and elected officials in Long Island, New York, President Trump also blamed “catch and release” policies for keeping violent gang members on the streets.
The CIS found in an April 2018 report, “According to ICE statistics provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee, over a nine-month period in FY2017, 142 gang members that ICE was seeking to deport were released by the local law enforcement agency instead of transferred to ICE custody. Two-thirds of the releases occurred in California, which has had a strict sanctuary policy in effect since January 2014. Fifteen of the aliens were members of the MS-13 gang and 127 were members of other gangs.”
The poor enforcement of our immigration laws has allowed the gang to thrive. Today, MS-13 does not only maintain control in large cities like Los Angeles; it has spread to across suburban America.
Suburban centers such as Fairfax, Virginia; Annapolis, Maryland; and Long Island, New York have never experienced the levels of violent crime they are now facing at the hands of greater MS-13 presence. Additionally, these suburban areas lack the resources of large cities to combat violent crime, making them easy targets for gang abuse.
In Long Island, the gang is connected to at least 17 murders that have taken place within 18 months; as law enforcement attempts to combat rising crime, they have also been placed on high alert following direct threats from MS-13 members against police, according to Charlotte Cuthbertson of the Epoch Times.
As MS-13 has grown, the gang has transitioned from a small immigrant group of casual drug users to a violent, ruthless, and international organization. Violence throughout Central America and failures in our immigration system have fueled the gangs rise. Today, MS-13 is not just an urban dilemma; the gang’s presence is truly a national crisis. As President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions attempt to combat violence in this country, they must start with combating the rise of MS-13.
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Natalia Castro is a contributing editor at Americans for Limited Government.