MS-13 Gang Outruns, Outguns Immigration Enforcement



Are fewer border apprehensions of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members a good thing?

Arrests of the notorious alien gangsters by U.S. Customs and Border Protection dropped from 464 in 2019 to just 72 in Fiscal Year (FY) 2020. Officials attributed the decline to fewer crossings from Mexico and points south.

Or, perhaps, it was because a smaller percentage of transiting gang members were caught. Given MS-13’s ruthless tactics and determination, this cannot be discounted.

Even as the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced indictments of 22 MS-13 members in July, FAIR reported that the crime syndicate “remains an ever-present and expanding threat to communities nationwide.”

DOJ estimates that some 10,000 MS-13 thugs currently ply their demonic trade in this country. Dealing in weapons, drugs, extortion, human trafficking, murder and mayhem, the brutal gang was listed as a “Transnational Crime Organization” by the Treasury Department in 2012.

MS-13 was founded in Los Angeles in the 1970s, ostensibly to protect Salvadoran immigrants from other street gangs. As it branched out, cities where MS-13 operates have seen their homicide rates rival those of El Salvador, which, until recently, had the world’s highest murder rate.

“For decades, MS-13 has exploited weaknesses in U.S. immigration enforcement policies to move its members in and out of the United States and to recruit new members who have arrived in the United States illegally,” the Justice Department states.

Of MS-13 members prosecuted by DOJ in the past five years, 74 percent were illegal aliens, 3 percent were legal residents, and 8 percent were U.S. citizens. The remaining 15 percent was classified as “unknown” for reasons that are unclear.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) says it has “committed significant resources” to combat MS-13. But, here too, the numbers have slipped. Though HSI arrested more than 400 MS-13 gang members in fiscal 2019 (the latest year for which figures were available), it was less than half of 2018’s total of 959.

In a positive move, DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security this month issued a rule barring gang members, along with convicted felons and domestic abusers, from securing asylum to remain in the United States. That’s the bare minimum Americans should expect.

With some 10,000 MS-13 gangsters in this country, three-quarters of them illegal aliens, heightened vigilance is required at the border and in the U.S. interior. As Andrew Arthur, a former immigration judge now with the Center for Immigration Studies, put it:

“Lax enforcement of U.S. immigration law has allowed MS-13 to flourish, to the detriment of not only communities across this country, but also to the citizens of and civil society in countries across the region.” 

About Author

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Bob Dane, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)'s Executive Director, has been with FAIR since 2006. His deep belief is that immigration is the most transformational determinant of where we are heading as a nation and that our policies must be reformed in the public interest. Over many years on thousands of radio, TV and print interviews, Bob has made the case that unless immigration is regulated and sensibly reduced, it will be difficult for America to reduce unemployment, increase wages, improve health care and education and heighten national security. Prior to joining FAIR, Bob spent twenty years in network radio, marketing and communications after an earlier career in policy and budgeting within the Reagan Administration. Bob has a degree from George Mason University in Public Administration and Management.

FAIR blogs can now be found on our main site at https://www.fairus.org/blog