Overwhelming Majority of MS-13 Defendants are in U.S. Illegally, DOJ Charges 127 This Year
Sticking to its commitment of dismantling the nation’s deadliest street gang, the Trump administration has criminally charged 127 members of the famously violent Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) this year and half a dozen face life in prison after being convicted. It’s a start but, shockingly, it barely puts a dent on the problem since the MS-13 has an estimated 10,000 members in the U.S. and tens of thousands more abroad, according to Department of Justice (DOJ) figures. Back in 2012 the Obama administration issued sanctions against the MS-13, officially classifying the Latin American gang as a Transitional Criminal Organization (TCO) for its involvement in serious criminal activities, including drug trafficking, kidnapping, human smuggling, sex trafficking, murder, racketeering, blackmail, extortion and immigration offenses.
MS-13 has long operated in the U.S., but it was Obama’s open border policies that energized the international gang domestically with new recruits provided by a steady flow of illegal immigrant minors. In fact, the DOJ reveals that around 74% of MS-13 defendants prosecuted by the agency in the last four years are in the U.S. illegally. Lax immigration enforcement is largely responsible. When the Obama administration started welcoming a barrage of Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) in 2014, Homeland Security sources told Judicial Watch that the nation’s most violent street gangs—including MS-13 and the 18th Street gang—were actively recruiting new members at U.S. shelters housing the minors. The Texas Department of Public Safety subsequently confirmed that the MS-13 is a top tier gang thanks to the influx of illegal alien gang members that crossed into the state under Obama’s disastrous program, which saw over 60,000 illegal immigrants—many with criminal histories—storm into the U.S. in a matter of months. Tens of thousands more have entered since then.
When Donald Trump became president he issued an Executive Order directing several agencies, including the departments of Justice, State and Homeland Security, to coordinate an effort to restore safety for the American people by extinguishing TCOs such as MS-13. The order states that the criminal groups have spread throughout the nation, threatening the safety of the United States and its citizens. “These organizations derive revenue through widespread illegal conduct, including acts of violence and abuse that exhibit a wanton disregard for human life,” the president’s order reads. “They, for example, have been known to commit brutal murders, rapes, and other barbaric acts. These groups are drivers of crime, corruption, violence, and misery.” The commander-in-chief gives federal agencies 120 days to report progress in combating the criminal organizations as well as recommended actions for dismantling them. In August 2019 Attorney General William Barr launched an initiative known as Joint Task Force Vulcan (JTFV) to address MS-13 with a coordinated force of federal law enforcement agencies and the DOJ. Less than a year after its formation, the task force recorded big successes. Over the summer the DOJ announced a number of significant JTFV cases, including for the first time an MS-13 member being charged with terrorism-related offenses, the take down of the MS-13 Hollywood leadership and the Attorney General’s decision to seek the death penalty against an MS-13 operative.
This month the DOJ released a report documenting the government’s achievements in pursuing MS-13 members nationwide. Since fiscal year 2016, the agency has charged 749 MS-13 defendants and obtained 504 convictions, including 37 life sentences. In 2020 federal prosecutors have charged 127 MS-13 gang bangers with six facing life sentences after being convicted. Additionally, the DOJ is seeking the death penalty in two MS-13 cases, in New York and Virginia. The feds will keep at it because MS-13 is a barbaric and well-organized criminal enterprise that continues to intensify in the U.S. and internationally. “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 DOJ writes in its recently issued report. “MS-13 recruited and utilized foreign nationals, most often from Central America, who were in the United States illegally.” A tiny portion, around three percent, of MS-13 criminal defendants are in the country legally, according to DOJ figures.