MS 13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha is a notorious South American gang that infiltrated Los Angeles in the 1980s with immigrants who fled the violence in El Salvador. The U.S. Department of Justice considers it a hybrid social organization and gang and they estimate MS 13 to have 50,000-70,000 members from the U.S. to South America.
MS 13 originated in the U.S. to protect immigrants from rival gangs preying on them, such as the 18th Street Gang then was exported to Central American countries like El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala through the deportation of undocumented immigrants.
During 2001-2010, nearly 200,000 people were deported to Central America due to convictions in the U.S. Gang members of MS 13 then recruited more members in their home countries. At the same time, the group spread across the U.S. to most major urban centers such as Washington D.C., New York City, and Chicago.
The F.B.I. estimates 33,000 street gangs are active in the U.S. with 1.4 million members.
According to a government report, MS 13 is loosely organized except for its urban strongholds where there may be a governing council. Members know one another through gang signs and tattoos, which may include the gang name and devil’s horns.
MS 13 gang initiation involves a beating by other members, and female members may have to submit to rape by multiple members. They’ve been known to kill anyone who works with the police identifying gang members.
Operation Community Shield is a multi-agency law enforcement initiative aimed at stopping the illegal activities of gangs, including drug sales, prostitution, smuggling, and violent crimes. About 3,000 members of MS-13 were apprehended through this operation in its first six years.
A Center for Immigration Studies report says that a particular issue with MS 13 is the United States’ recent policy of providing sanctuary for immigrants because many of the gang members rounded up by law enforcement had entered the country as unaccompanied minors, a protected status.
MS 13 is linked to more than 200 murders.
The MS 13 gang is mentioned in the news frequently and credited with gang violence near the southern border. MS-13 is known for brutal attacks on rivals.
The President and the governor of Texas have been exaggerating the number of MS 13 attacks and member to control the negative image of immigrants entering the country through Mexico, for political reasons. Although border patrol has reported fewer than 200, MS-13 members caught at the border over the past six months, the governor stated that MS-13 associates coming through has increased by 200% during the past few months.
MS 13 was responsible for 40% of the murders in Suffolk County, New York in 2017.
In early 2017, a dozen people affiliated with MS 13 were indicted for the brutal murders of two teen girls in New York. 16-year-old Kalya Cuevas had upset some gang members with statements on social media, and her best friend, 15-year-old Nisa Mickens was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their bodies were found some distance apart in a neighborhood of Brentwood, on Long Island, battered almost beyond recognition with machetes and blunt objects. Three other teens were killed in the same town in 2016. Those arrested for the crimes included several juveniles and illegal immigrants.