The Veracity of President Trump’s “Outlandish” MS-13 Claims

Mara Salvatrucha 13, known colloquially as MS-13, is a criminal gang with significant operations in the United States and Central America’s “Northern Triangle” – Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Known for full-body tattoos and extreme violence, the gang is also suspected of engaging in transnational illicit enterprises across Australia, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Peru and South Korea. Its official motto is “Kill, Rape, Control.”

At the end of October 2018, President Trump suggested that one of the reasons the migrant caravan, camped out on the U.S./Mexico border, presents a threat to Americans is that it has been infiltrated by MS-13 gang members. However, the mainstream media derisively laughed off any suggestions that gang members might have joined the caravan in order to use it for cover.

On October 23, 2018, Politico accused the president of “whipping up a frenzy” on the migrant caravan. Meanwhile, on October 25, the Washington Post  “Fact Checker” segment ran a piece titled “A Caravan of Phony Claims from the Trump Administration” claiming that the President’s assertions about the migrant convoy and gang infiltrators are nothing more than “outlandish claims.”

Well, it turns out President Trump’s claims were neither frenzied nor outlandish:

  • On November 28, 2018, the Border Patrol announced that it had arrested Honduran caravanner Jose Villalobos-Jobel who illegally entered the United States near the Calexico port of entry. By his own admission, Villalobos is an active member of MS-13.
  • Shortly thereafter, on November 30, 2018, the Border Patrol announced that it apprehended Wuilson Lazo-Ramos another Honduran MS-13 member who traveled with the caravan. Lazo entered the U.S. illegally, near Tucson. In addition to being a gang member, he was previously convicted of weapons offenses in Maricopa County, Arizona.

So, did the press acknowledge that the President was correct? No, on the morning of December 7, 2018, the Washington Post ran a piece titled, “Is MS-13 as Dangerous as Trump Suggests?”. Written by two associate professors and a PhD candidate, at George Mason University, the article repeats the same clichéd arguments about MS-13:

  • “[I]n the United States, MS-13 is a fragmented organization without a clear hierarchy,” consisting of nothing more than “a federation of teenage barrio
  • The decentralized nature of the gang, “limits collective action, making it difficult for them to carry out large-scale criminal activities and bring in steady revenue.”
  • Therefore, it isn’t dangerous and President Trump is an alarmist xenophobe.

Of course, these types of mainstream media assertions don’t add up with anything that law enforcement and national security entities are saying about MS-13.  The U.S. Department of the Treasury has designated MS-13 a transnational criminal organization. And The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point characterizes MS-13 as a “highly networked entity” and warns that it would be a mistake to consider it “disorganized.” Rather, it argues, “MS-13’s neo-feudal structure helps it adapt to shifting alliances and rivalries while leaving it free to exploit local opportunities.”

Far from “whipping up a frenzy” about the migrant caravan, President Trump is the first Chief Executive in decades to tell the unvarnished truth about the link between illegal migration and crime. And for that, he should be commended.

About Author


Matthew J. O’Brien joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.


  1. avatar

    Whether You Believe in Reducing Risk Only for That Global Warming Theory

    But accept risks on immigration crime at the same time is like mixing oil and water….hypocritical brainless lack of common sense against Populism.

    BTW, assuming global warming is real, more immigration OVERPOPULATION makes it FAR worse now…OVERPOPULATION is the root cause of the global warming theory.

    • avatar

      Liberals refuse to deal with the contradictions of their beliefs between immigration and the environment. There is simply no argument that immigration = more population growth = more environmental degradation and air pollution.

      What the media is ignoring about global warming is the fact that the last two years have shown a .05C decrease in global temperatures. Always plenty of room for the latest gloom and doom predictions but none for the fact that more than a few scientists are saying that we could be headed for another “little ice age” like a couple centuries ago because of reduced sun spot activity. That was preceded by the “medieval warming” of several centuries. 10,000 years ago glaciers covered the upper mid-west.

      CO2 likely increases warming somewhat but not as much as predicted. It’s nothing compared to solar activity. The hottest decade in this country was the 1930s. Nearly half of the highest recorded temperatures of all time in each state were recorded that decade. Look at now. Nearly a month of cold and snow that more resembles a cold mid-January.

  2. avatar

    Talk about propaganda. If you read the link to the WaPo story “George Mason University”, they claim “In the United States, only 13% of homicides are gang related..”. Only??? As if that was comparable to the general population as a whole? One of the links they give puts total gang membership nationwide at just over 800,000.

    The adult population of the country is about 250 million. So gang homicides are far out of proportion to the homicides in the rest of the population. And the two reports from the Dept of Treasury and Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, which point out the dangers of MS13, are from 2102. For those who can count, that would be right in the middle of the Obama administration. Was HIS administration making things up?

    Of course, the Washington Post is owned by globalist and open borders advocate Jeff Bezos, owner of Amazon and the richest man in the world now. At the same time, his employees complain of being worked to exhaustion and afraid to even take bathroom breaks. We read in history books about the “robber barons” of the 19th century but liberals have no problem supporting the guys like Bill Gates, Bezos, and Zuckerberg, who want ever more visas for foreign workers so they can cut wages for American workers.

    • avatar

      Those two Universities that comment on the Gangs are not familiar with them otherwise they will print the truth and ask why is then the caravan people fleeing their country? and I can talk about Guatemala everyday there is a bus driver, taxi driver or business owner kill because they don’t want to pay the amount required by those gangs to do their business,
      You only have to read the news from those countries and see how many people are being kill by the gangs.

  3. avatar

    I commend Donald Trump for doing whatever he can to safeguard the United States from MS-13. I have seen their handiwork all over the walls on Long Island. Just their graffiti is enough to make me sick. The crime reports in the news involving MS-13 are getting to be a daily occurrence.

  4. avatar

    If people would have the good sense to think outside the box, they would realize that our President knows what he is talking about. He may not have the smooth talking demeanor that people seem to be hypnotized by, but I would rather hear the truth than a bunch of *”Eddie Haskell charm. ”
    I never liked Trump at first . But Trump is “Street Smart” and that’s what we need to keep us safe. So never mind all the trivial crap on TV that attempts to distract the public attention away from important issues. Let him do his job if you value your freedom.

    * For younger readers: Eddie Haskell was a character on the 50’s “Leave It To Beaver Show” that would try to disguise his hoodlum tendency’s by charming his friends parents . “Gee Mrs. Clever, that is a lovely dress you’re wearing ” was one of his lines I remember most. .

  5. avatar
    Patricia Watkins on

    Well, first off, the Washington Post appears to be a very left leaning “rag” that will find anyway they can to discredit Trump; especially on the illegal migration issue. Very anti-American and very pro-illegal migration regarding immigration issues. Makes me believe that the Washington Post is for open borders and equality between illegal migrants and all those who are legally in the U.S. Secondly, America generously welcomed migrants from El Salvador back in the 1980’s and some of them stabbed us in the back by becoming MS-13 and committing crimes in America. Those who committed those crimes were deported back to their country of origin. Some of these gang members migrate back to our porous Southern border and illegally gain entry. If border patrol caught only two of them, how many more snuck in and were not caught? The radical left does not care about American citizens. They only care about gaining power & control by whatever means necessary. They see illegal migrants as potential Democratic voters and also a means to increase Democratic controlled areas to generate more federal funding through the census. I think that those who support the radical left are blinded by emotional issues and all about more globalism and social services. I do believe in an adequate social safety net for legal Americans, but not for illegal migrants.