MS-13: Who Are They?

Posted: Jul 31, 2017 2:20 PM
MS-13: Who Are They?

Before he was elected President of the United States in November, Republican Donald Trump vowed on the campaign trail to bring law and order to cities across the country and promised specifically to go after MS-13. 

Since January, MS-13 has been targeted extensively by federal law enforcement authorities and efforts have been bolstered by an executive order from the White House. 

"The men and women of ICE are turning the tide in the battle against MS-13," President Trump said during a speech in Long Island last week. "We will find you. We will arrest you. We will jail you, and we will deport you."

"MS-13 has transformed peaceful parks and beautiful quiet neighborhoods into blood-stained killing fields. They’re animals. We cannot tolerate as a society the spilling of innocent, young, wonderful vibrant people," he contined. "ICE officers recently conducted the largest crackdown on criminal gangs in the history of our country. We're just getting started. We will restore law and order."

Last week Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the arrest of more than 700 MS-13 gang members in El Salvador, on top of continued raids and arrests in hot spots like New York and Virginia. 

But what is MS-13? And who are its members?

MS-13 is one of the most violent transnational street gangs in the world with 6000-10,000 members operating in 42 of 50 states. During the unaccompanied minor crisis of 2014, MS-13 used Red Cross and Border Patrol housing units as recruitment centers for new members. Their prime targets are 17 to 18-year-old young men. They are no strangers to murder, rape, assault and using violence to control and intimidate local communities. In fact, violence is their number one tool and their weapons of choice include knives, machetes and firearms. They have been at the center of a number of high profile murders in the United States. More on their background from the FBI

Members of Mara Salvatrucha, better known as MS-13, who are mostly Salvadoran nationals or first generation Salvadoran-Americans, but also Hondurans, Guatemalans, Mexicans, and other Central and South American immigrants. And according to our recent national threat assessment of this growing, mobile street gang, they could be operating in your or in the near future.

Based on information from our own investigations, from our state and local law enforcement partners, and from community organizations, we’ve concluded that while the threat posed by MS-13 to the U.S. as a whole is at the “medium” level, membership in parts of the country is so concentrated that we’ve labeled the threat level there “high.”

MS-13 members engage in a wide range of criminal activity, including drug distribution, murder, rape, prostitution, robbery, home invasions, immigration offenses, kidnapping, carjackings/auto thefts, and vandalism. Most of these crimes, you’ll notice, have one thing in common—they are exceedingly violent. And while most of the violence is directed toward other MS-13 members or rival street gangs, innocent citizens often get caught in the crossfire.

MS-13 is expanding its membership at a “moderate” rate through recruitment and migration. Some MS-13 members move to get jobs or to be near family members—currently, the southeast and the northeast are seeing the largest increases in membership. MS-13 often recruits new members by glorifying the gang lifestyle (often on the Internet, complete with pictures and videos) and by absorbing smaller gangs.

Speaking of employment, MS-13 members typically work for legitimate businesses by presenting false documentation. They primarily pick employers that don’t scrutinize employment documents, especially in the construction, restaurant, delivery service, and landscaping industries.

During President Trump's speech last week a number of media outlets downplayed the MS-13 threat, doing their audiences a major disservice.