Trump, Sessions Provide a Reality Check in Identifying Cause of MS-13 Proliferation

President Donald Trump recently blamed Obama's weak immigration policy for the spread of MS-13 around the country and said he is aggressively removing them. This comment comes nearly a week after four young adults were brutally murdered in a park in Central Islip, N.Y., an area on Long Island plagued by MS-13 violence and only some 50 miles from Trump's Manhattan residence.

What is refreshing is the fact that Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have connected the dots between the near-open-border policy for Central American youths, whom President Barack Obama in 2014 deemed victims of an "urgent humanitarian situation", and the implications that policy has had on MS-13's ability to spread throughout the United States. While the spigot of "unaccompanied children" appearing at the southwest border has dropped to a trickle, tens of thousands have been placed all over the country in the past four years. It is not known how many were already gang members or how many were threatened or voluntarily joined the gang, but the crime waves have been telling, especially on Long Island, where 10 of 13 gang members federally indicted in March were in the United States illegally.

At the Organized Crime Council meeting Tuesday, Sessions said the "sanctuary city" issue is contributing to the gang's growth. "Harboring criminal aliens only helps violent gangs like MS-13," Sessions told the Council, a consortium of agencies across the government. "Sanctuary cities are aiding these cartels to refill their ranks and putting innocent life — including the lives of countless law-abiding immigrants — in danger."

The Trump team is looking to eradicate MS-13 with tools that are already in place. This requires strict enforcement of point-of-entry laws at the border. It does not involve selective interpretation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, which was erroneously applied to the majority of unaccompanied alien children (UACs) who weren't trafficked to the United States, but came voluntarily. It should involve holding parents/sponsors who are in the country illegally accountable through immigration enforcement if children become involved with gangs. For gang members who are charged or cited for even traffic or misdemeanor charges, deportation proceedings should immediately be initiated.

What few politicians realize is that MS-13 is not a local law enforcement issue. It is a national public safety crisis. Their reach has permeated nearly every state and their strategies, while barbaric, are often shrewd. They will often contract a gang member from a different state to carry out a luz verde ("green light", or approved) murder. This strategy often hampers investigations. In 2012, MS-13 was designated a transnational criminal organization by the U.S. Treasury Department, which has proven to be an impotent gesture since the majority of gang members are notoriously not only impoverished, many even have legitimate jobs in the agriculture, landscaping, or hospitality industries. What may be more effective is to designate the gang a terrorist organization, which El Salvador did in 2015. While many gang members are federally prosecuted under the RICO statute, designating them a terrorist organization may be more compelling given their history of crossing state boundaries to commit violent crimes to intimidate communities.