Over the past two years, in tweets and speeches, on the campaign trail and in the Oval Office, President Trump has railed against the violent street gang MS-13. Last week, he called out the “savage gang” again, citing a suspected MS-13 murder in his hometown, the New York borough Queens, during his argument for $5.7 billion in border wall funding. The State of the Union speech marked the 161st occasion in which the president has publicly spoken about the gang since taking office, the Washington Post reports. Even as he warned about the dangers posed by MS-13 members and the need for a wall to keep them out, killings connected to the gang were plummeting in many of the areas where MS-13 has been most active.
In the Washington, D.C., region, where a spate of grisly gang slayings drew the attention of the White House, MS-13 killings have fallen from at least 33 in 2016 and 2017 to seven last year. On Long Island, where 26 people were killed by the gang over the same two-year stretch, police say there was one MS-13 slaying in 2018. Getting a precise count for the U.S. is difficult because no agency tracks MS-13 killings. Federal law enforcement officials say MS-13 violence fell last year as a result of intensified nationwide investigations. “We have seen a reduction,” said FBI agent Alex Ghiz, who runs the Transnational Anti-Gang (TAG) Task Force. “We’ve had a significant impact on the gang in high-impact communities, where it has a large presence. And that has had an impact on how the gang operates.” Despite the drop in killings, MS-13 remains a menace, he and others said. They noted a few places where the gang’s violence has remained steady — such as Houston and Prince George’s County, Md. — or has increased, including Queens.