REPORT: MS-13 Made Comeback Through Obama’s Lax Gang Enforcement, Surge Of Unaccompanied Minors

Will Racke | Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
  • MS-13 has made a comeback 
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have faced a surge of unaccompanied alien children
  • Local sanctuary city policies have disrupted cooperation between police and immigration agents

The vicious transnational gang MS-13 has enjoyed a resurgence across the U.S. thanks in part to reduced enforcement of illegal alien gang members and permissive policies toward resettling unaccompanied teenagers who arrived at the southwest border, according to an analysis released Wednesday.

Though it was founded in Los Angles by Salvadoran illegal immigrants, MS-13 today is based primarily in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. During the George W. Bush administration, the gang’s growth in the U.S. was kept in check by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, who worked with local police to arrest suspected members on administrative immigration violations.

That changed under the Obama administration, which directed ICE offices to make arresting members for immigration violations or minor crimes a lower priority and concentrate instead on major conspiracy cases, according to the analysis from the Center for Immigration Studies. Overall, ICE gang-related arrests fell from about 4,600 in 2012 to about 1,580 in 2014, the CIS report says.

At the same time it was de-prioritizing immigration enforcement of MS-13, the Obama administration faced a surge of unaccompanied alien children (UAC) and family units across the southwest border, mostly from Central American countries. During the surge, which began in 2012 and lasted into 2016, Border Patrol agents arrested more than 300,000 UAC and family units.

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Because U.S. immigration law requires alien minors to be released from immigration detention without “unnecessary delay” and placed in the “least restrictive setting” possible, most of the Central American teens were released with immigration hearings pending in the distant future. (RELATED: Trump Says These Two Loopholes Force US To Accept MS-13 ‘Killers’ At The Border)

The placement of so many Central American UAC in the interior of the country, often with relatives who were themselves illegal immigrants, gave MS-13 a pool of fresh candidates from which to recruit. Increased MS-13 activity is correlated with the resettlement of UAC in certain metro areas, according to the CIS analysis, which documented more than 500 cases of MS-13 members arrested or charged with crimes since 2012.

“The parts of the country that have experienced an increase in MS-13 activity correspond roughly to the areas where there have been the largest number of UAC resettlement placements by the federal government,” Jessica Vaughn, CIS director of policy analysis, wrote in the report. “This makes sense; about 15 years ago, MS-13 made a push to expand from Los Angeles to other parts of the country with sizeable Central American communities, including many illegal aliens.”

As Vaughn’s analysis notes, states that saw heavy UAC resettlement under Obama were also those that had the most arrests of MS-13 gang members. California, Maryland, New York, Virginia and Massachusetts were the top five among 22 states where an MS-13 member was arrested or charged since 2012.

Those five states accounted for 320 of 506 cases documented by CIS — 63 percent.

In addition to laws covering alien minors, local sanctuary city policies have disrupted cooperation between police and immigration agents that could more effectively take on MS-13, Vaughn says.

“Many of the hotbeds of MS-13 activity are also places where local officials have adopted sanctuary policies,” she wrote, noting that 222 of the 506 cases documented by CIS occurred in sanctuary jurisdictions.

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