Few Gang Members are Undocumented Immigrants: Report

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Alleged MS-13 members caught in a police roundup. Photo by Gangs of the World via Flickr

While President Donald Trump continues to condemn illegal immigrants who come into the US as “gang members” and “criminals,” federal data shows that only 0.09 percent of illegal immigrant detainees come from Central American gangs, reports the Associated Press.

Instead, it’s often people fleeing gangs who are trying to get into the United States.

President Donald Trump tweeted in June that “illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be … pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13.”

Yet very few gang members try to get into the United States. In fiscal year 2017, the US Border Patrol carried out 310,531 detentions of people who were in the U.S. illegally, but only 0.09 percent of them belonged to the gangs operating in Central America, according to US Customs and Border Protection statistics.

These findings are “not at all surprising” according to an immigration expert.

“The people coming to the US are fleeing gang violence (among other threats to their lives and human rights), they are not primarily the gang members themselves,” said Susan Akram, a clinical professor on immigration at Boston University school of law, in an interview with The Crime Report.

“As many reports have been documenting for years, the rise of gangs in Central America is a result of the development of violent gangs in the immigrant communities within the US–particularly LA–many of whom were deported to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where they had not lived since childhood,” she said. “Having no options for education or jobs, they maintained and expanded their gang activities and turned to extreme violence.”

And according to Akram, the US plays a part in the reason immigrants are fleeing.

“The US itself bears some of the responsibility for the causes of this flight,” she said.

Reasons include: its longstanding interventions in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua that destabilized those countries governance during the 1980’s; the US’ exporting of its ‘border control’ to Central America, particularly Mexico, through such policies as Plan Frontera Sur and Plan Merida; the depression of wages and job opportunities caused by NAFTA and CAFTA; and the development of massive corporate agribusiness that has forced thousands of Central Americans off their lands and privatized their resources (particularly water).

Thus, America has an obligation to care for immigrants fleeing their homeland, she concluded.

Washington should “provide asylum to persons fleeing such kinds of persecution and harm, which the US is bound to through its treaty commitment under the US Refugee Protocol.”

Megan Hadley is a reporter for The Crime Report. She welcomes comments from readers.

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