El Salvador Fears Return of Gang Members Deported by Trump
By Sylvia Longmire
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Too many Americans in too many communities are familiar with the term MS-13. It represents the Salvadoran gang known as Mara Salvatrucha, and they are widely known as one of the most violent street gangs in the world. Since the 1980s, many of the gang members have made their way from Central America into the United States and wreaked havoc upon big cities and small towns nationwide. Now that President Trump is cracking down on MS-13 members living in the U.S. illegally, many in El Salvador are panicking over how their deportations will affect violence levels in their home country.
According to the FBI and the U.S. Treasury Department, MS-13 membership has grown to at least 10,000 in the United States and more than 30,000 worldwide. The Washington Post reported that so far this year the U.S. government has deported 398 gang members to El Salvador, compared with 534 in all of 2016. While the numbers may seem small, especially compared to the level of deportations to a country like Mexico, the fear is strong enough that it has “prompted Salvadoran authorities to hold emergency meetings and propose new legislation to monitor suspected criminals who are being sent home.”
MS-13 Murders and Gang Killings
MS-13 members have been committing murderers and other heinous acts for decades in the U.S., but several recent high-profile incidents have prompted Trump to be more vocal about his intentions to crack down on the gang. While they haven’t been mentioned in the media very frequently in the past few years, the recent murder of a 15-year-old Salvadoran girl in Springfield, VA, and a series of gang killings on Long Island in New York have fueled speculation that MS-13 may be expanding in the U.S.
MS-13 is large enough and complex enough as an organization toward prosecution under RICO statutes, otherwise known as the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. According to FOXBusiness, the gang is involved in a variety of illegal activities, despite legal sanctions levied against them under the Obama administration. Phillip Holloway, a legal analyst and former police officer, said, “They are involved in multiple crimes including murder, racketeering, drug trafficking, sex trafficking, and human trafficking that includes prostitution.” According to University of Houston sociology professor Luis Salinas, MS-13 also uses violence as a means for extortion, which constitutes much of its income.
Membership Continues to Spread
Many of the gang’s members are living in the U.S. illegally, although it is impossible to know how many. Since they started arriving during El Salvador’s civil war in the 1980s, typical MS-13 members would cross the southwest border, get arrested for committing a crime, get deported after serving jail time, then get trained in increasingly violent activity back in El Salvador before crossing the border again, usually into Southern California. This started a vicious cycle that led to the spread of their membership to far-flung areas of the country, and also increased their brutality both in the U.S. and back in El Salvador.
While Salvadoran authorities have been making some progress in reducing crime levels, they still have one of the highest homicide rates in the Western Hemisphere. According to the Salvadoran Attorney General’s office, MS-13 has at least 49 “cliques,” or cells, in El Salvador, and some of these cells have actually named themselves after the cities in the U.S. where members were living before being deported. Proposed remedies include monitoring deported gang members and asking them to check in with police once a month, and a new law that would create “internment centers,” possibly guarded by the military. Human rights advocates are already questioning the legality of such centers, but as the numbers of gang deportees increase in the coming months, more extreme proposals will likely be put forth as the fear of increased violence grows.