Of 70 criminal deportees from the U.S. who arrived by pane in San Salvador recently, at least four were members of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, a gang formed two decades ago in Los Angles. The Los Angeles Times reports that for one of them, Melvin “Joker” Cruz-Mendoza, it was his fourth deportation – the second this year. Cruz-Mendoza, 24, pleaded guilty in separate felony robbery and drug cases in Los Angeles. In the last 12 years, U.S. immigration authorities have logged more than 50,000 deportations of immigrants with criminal records to Central America, including untold numbers of gang members.
The Times says that a deportation policy aimed at breaking up a Los Angeles street gang has backfired and helped spread it across Central America and back into other parts of the U.S. Newly organized cells in El Salvador have returned to establish strongholds in metropolitan Washington, D.C., and other U.S. cities. Prisons in El Salvador have become nerve centers where deported leaders from Los Angeles communicate with U.S. gang cliques. A gang that once numbered a few thousand has morphed into an international network with as many as 50,000 members, the most hard-core engaging in extortion, immigrant smuggling, and racketeering. Across the U.S., more than 700 MS-13 members have been arrested this year under a new enforcement campaign that immigration authorities say will lead to more serious cases and longer sentences for gang members before they are deported. For a sizable number of MS-13 members, deportation is little more than a taxpayer-financed visit with friends and family before returning north. “I think most of the police departments will agree that you’re just getting them off the street for a couple of months,” said FBI Assistant Director Chris Swecker.