MS-13 Members Say Trump Focus Helps Them

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The Trump administration’s decision to place the MS-13 street gang at the center of its immigration enforcement has helped the organization bolster its fearsome reputation and risks handing it further political capital, says a study reported by The Guardian. La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13 – formed in the 1980s by Salvadoran immigrants on the U.S. west coast before spreading through Central America and the U.S. – has been the subject of intense focus by the administration. Trump used his State of Union address to call on Congress to legislate hardline immigration reform in order to “close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13 and other criminal gangs to break into our country.” A research project from the Insight Crime thinktank warns that the politicization of the gang will only serve to embolden it. “In the United States, the federal government has made the MS-13 a center-point of its immigration policy, which has bolstered the gang’s image as the most feared gang in the region. The gang will take advantage of this political capital when it is handed to it,” the study says.

Based on interviews with more than 100 gang members and other experts, the study describes the group as a complex, nebulous organization, made up primarily of teenagers that is both social and criminal in nature, and has no single leader or leadership structure. Héctor Silva Ávalos, who helped compile the report, said he and other researchers spent time with dozens of gang members over a three-year period in the U.S. and El Salvador. Researchers met MS-13 members at prisons and in the neighborhoods they operate in.

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