The Trump administration vowed Tuesday to crack down on MS-13, a notoriously brutal Central American street gang blamed for a recent series of killings in suburban New York, and accused Obama-era border policies of allowing its ranks to flourish.
The gang is known for hacking and stabbing victims with machetes, drug dealing, prostitution and other rackets. Their recruits are middle- and high-school students predominantly in immigrant communities and those who try to leave them risk violent retribution, according to officials.
“These organisations enrich themselves by pedalling poison in our communities, trafficking children for sexual exploitation and inflicting horrific violence in the communities where they operate,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in remarks before meeting with top federal law enforcement officials on ways to dismantle ultra-violent transnational gangs.
MS-13 — or the Mara Salvatrucha — traces its origins to Los Angeles, where thousands fleeing El Salvador’s bloody civil war in the 1980s arrived, to protect the immigrants from Mexican and African-American gangs. As Central American communities have grown, so has the gang, which is now estimated at 30,000 members operating in semi-autonomous cliques mostly in Central and North America. More than 10,000 MS-13 are in the US, according to federal law enforcement officials. However, the FBI doesn’t break down its national crime statistics by gang affiliation, and the bureau doesn’t collect MS-13-specific data, a spokeswoman said.