Brendan Kirby, Polizette, February 22, 2018
A mass of Central American teenagers arriving at the U.S. border has fueled the resurgence of the extraordinarily violent MS-13 gang, according to an analysis released Wednesday by a Washington-based think tank.
The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which reviewed more than 500 criminal cases, reported that more than one in five gang suspects prosecuted for criminal offenses arrived as so-called unaccompanied minors — at least 120 out of 506.
Jessica Vaughan, the report’s author, said the actual share of MS-13 gang members who were unaccompanied minors probably is closer to 30 percent. That is the percentage of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests for which the gang accounts.
MS-13, short for Mara Salvatrucha, was founded in Los Angles by Salvadoran immigrants in the 1980s. Members who returned to El Salvador because of deportations brought the gang back home, and then members reintroduced it to the United States — this time far more violent, according to gang researchers.
The report notes that MS-13 gang membership dwindled after President George W. Bush launched an initiative to work with local law enforcement authorities to identify and deport illegal immigrants with gang ties.
Critics, however, complained that federal immigration officials overzealously pursued the cases and swept up people who were not gang members. Former President Barack Obama restricted the policy. Gang arrests by ICE nose-dived from about 4,600 in 2012 to 1,580 last year.
The report indicates that more than 100 of the MS-13 defendants were charged with conspiracy and racketeering. Dozens more faced charges that included drug offenses, sex trafficking, attempted murder, sexual assault, and extortion.
The report also suggests that policies of non-cooperation with ICE adopted by “sanctuary” jurisdictions may make it harder to disrupt and dismantle MS-13 organizations. Close to half of the MS-13 arrests reviewed by the center — 222 — took place in those jurisdictions.
Vaughan said she knows from talking to gang investigators across the country that the MS-13 resurgence is the result of more than aggressive recruiting of unaccompanied minors.
“They took advantage of catch and release to bring in kids who already were gang members,” she said.
But she added that more troubling is the fact that about two-thirds of unaccompanied minors apply for special green cards under a program for children who have experienced hardship or abandonment by one of their parents. That’s according to a law enforcement roundtable on MS-13 that President Donald Trump convened earlier this month.
Vaughan said MS-13 members who become legal permanent residents become much harder to deport because gang affiliation in and of itself is not grounds to kick lawful residents out of the country.