In his war on immigration, Donald Trump hasn’t shied away from spectacular claims. As part of his long-running campaign against so-called ‘sanctuary cities’, the commander-in-chief has cited street gang MS-13 as an example of how undocumented aliens can wreak havoc in urban America.
Analysts at several media outlets – including CNN and The Economist – have suggested the strategy could have the unintended consequence of solidifying the group’s already-gruesome reputation.
Unlike the Mexican cartels which contract out their distribution and hitlists to the Maras, MS-13 is a street gang which gains its power from notoriety and publicity.
Oftentimes, the gang’s tactics opt toward brutal – it has been responsible for daylight massacres on the West and East Coasts, including the mass murder of several men in a New York park.
When CNN spoke with ‘Margarita’ of Queens late last month, she told the network how her teenage son was stabbed with a machete in New York as revenge for refusing to be recruited in El Salvador.
Margarita said that Immigration and Customs Enforcement crackdown on illegal aliens have emboldened the gang.
“It’s not like before, where … they were more hidden,” she said, adding that she hasn’t felt so afraid since she fled El Salvador a decade ago. “People can get deported, so they don’t call the police. So they (MS-13) feel more free.”
Some Trump administration officials tried rebuking that claim by blaming an uptick in Mara crime on sanctuary cities.
“Illegal immigrant gang members are released from a prison or jail and then we have to go searching for them at great costs,” said the anonymous official, “and at great personal risk to the officers.”
He added his opinion, saying the “reality” is that ICE is removing MS-13 members from the country in “very large numbers.”
The last week of July saw U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions taking a surprise flight to visit his counterpart in El Salvador.
The purpose of his meeting was to put together an international task force capable of taking down MS-13.
Sometimes referred to as Mara Salvatrucha, the outlawed syndicate originally sprang to power in 1980s Los Angeles. Intended to act as a self-defense force for Salvadorian immigrants against more established African-American and Hispanic gangs, the organization quickly transformed into a transnational criminal force.
Beginning some twenty years ago, fed-up American authorities began deporting MS-13’s most notorious leaders to El Salvador.
Rather than repenting and reverting to honest living, Mara Salvatrucha expanded across Central America, just as its followers in the United States spread out from LA to San Francisco, Texas, Chicago, and New York.
The gang’s international network lets it terrorize rivals and innocents across the continent.
The head of the FBI’s field office in New York, William F. Sweeney, Jr., explained why his department considers the group a major threat.
“MS-13 is our number-one priority on Long Island because much of what they do and how they behave boils down to violence for violence sake,” he said.
But law enforcement across the Five Boroughs and in neighboring Long Island are having to work overtime to assuage the fears of undocumented immigrants.
The Nassau County District Attorney’s office said calls to its Immigrant Affairs Tips Hotline have plummeted ever since Trump took office and adopted his hardline stance on aliens.
“Because immigrants are scared to call law enforcement, crimes are going unreported, victims are not getting justice, criminals are going unpunished and we are all less safe,” said Silvia Finkelstein, the director of immigrant affairs.
One anonymous MS-13 gang member CNN interviewed didn’t disagree.
“They [MS-13] feel like they can do whatever they want, ‘cause Trump himself has made everyone fear,” he said. “He’s helping them.”