Most MS-13 gang members charged with federal crimes are in the country illegally, according to a new Justice Department report that underscores just how much the violent criminal cartel relies on foreigners.
Out of 749 MS-13 defendants charged over the last four years, at least 74% had no right to be in the U.S. in the first place, according to the report. Another 3% were legal migrants, and the status of another 15% is unclear, meaning migrants could make up more than 90% of MS-13 criminals.
In some cases gang members manage to sneak into the U.S., while other times young immigrants cross illegally and are then recruited.
The surge of Unaccompanied Alien Children and families from Central America over the last six years has created a recruiting bonanza for the gang.
For example MS-13 gang members charged with murder in Baltimore came to the U.S. as UACs, while a third came as part of a family unit.
In Georgia, a 15-year-old Salvadoran boy who came to the U.S. as a UAC stands charged in a vicious stabbing death that authorities say was part of his initiation into MS-13.
And in the Seattle area, two MS-13-related murders last year have been laid at the feet of young immigrants who came to the U.S. as UACs.
In the Seattle and Baltimore cases, local authorities had the suspects in custody on other charges before the murders, and ICE had sought to deport them. But in each case they were released under sanctuary policies, leaving them out on the streets at the time of the murders.
Some MS-13 members, meanwhile, have shown up at the border and tried to lie about their ages, claiming to be juveniles in order to try to take advantage of the UAC loophole.
MS-13 emerged in the 1980s in Los Angeles, fueled by people from El Salvador fleeing a civil war. It now operates internationally, with leaders in El Salvador calling the shots for U.S. operations.
New York and the area surrounding Washington, D.C., are also hotspots for the gang, thanks to the large number of Central American migrants who have settled in both regions.
Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, said those leaders in El Salvador gave orders for the U.S. cliques to boost their ranks by taking advantage of lax border policies here.
“And the new recruits are especially violent; many have committed violence in their home country starting at an early age, they are easily manipulated by the older leaders, and they are not concerned about the consequences of their actions,” she said.
She said the Justice Department’s statistics bear out research she’s done on Texas street gang arrests overall where 89% were undocumented immigrants.
That includes 59% who’d jumped the border, 17% who’d been deported at least once before, 8% who never appeared for their immigration cases and 6% whose cases were still ongoing when they were arrested. Another 9% had earned green cards, and 2% were here on a temporary visa.
“This information perfectly illustrates one of the most important reasons to have robust immigration and border enforcement — to catch the bad actors who are causing or will cause problems in American communities,” she said.
Federal prosecutors earlier this year brought an unprecedented terrorism charge against an MS-13 leader who they say oversaw operations for 20 of the gang’s cliques throughout the eastern U.S.
Attorney General William Barr has labeled MS-13 a “death cult” because of its brutality, sophistication and reach. It is known for baseball bat beatings and machete killings. Dismembering or torching victims’ bodies is also common.
Security experts say the brutality is part of the gang’s mode of operations.
Homeland Security and the Justice Department are working with Central American authorities to try to identify gang members before they reach the U.S.
Homeland Security runs a program known as BITMAP, which stores biometrics of key targets, allowing authorities to track them as they make their way north, encountering authorities along the path from Central America to the U.S.
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