The Salvadoran man charged in the double-murder of Michael and Virginia Spevak, a kindly and beloved retired Washington, DC couple is reported to be a member of Street Thug Criminals, a violent street gang already well-known to local police and ICE. Since 2005, ICE has arrested at least 10 other members and leaders of this gang, all but one citizens of El Salvador (see below). This case reaffirms the need for ICE to sustain its successful program aimed at dismantling immigrant street gangs, and for local law enforcement agencies to take advantage of immigration law tools in fighting gang crime.
Though described in one newspaper as a “refugee”, the man charged in the crime, Peiro Fuentes Hernandez, was apparently an illegal alien who was able to get his status laundered through a long-standing amnesty program known as Temporary Protected Status (TPS). This program has legalized more than 300,000 people from several violence-plagued dysfunctional Central American nations (more than 80% are from El Salvador). It is not a refugee program per se; the admission of official refugees is coordinated with a United Nations agency and they enter though a different process. Salvadorans who came to this country illegally after a hurricane in 1998 have been allowed to stay here ever since under TPS, which was just extended for another 18 months in September 2008.
One legacy of TPS has been its contribution to the burgeoning street gang problem in the United States. Much of the recent growth in criminal gangs has been attributed to the emergence of immigrant gangs, and a significant share of the newer immigrant gangs that are active in the DC metro area are citizens of El Salvador and other TPS countries. Over the time period covered by our recent gang study (2005-2007), nearly two-thirds of the arrests made by the Baltimore/DC/Virginia field offices of ICE were citizens of El Salvador (307 out of 479 arrests).
ICE agents arrested at least 8 members and 2 leaders of Street Thug Criminals prior to the Spevak murder. Seven had entered the United States illegally (we don’t know how many may have received TPS). They are between 22 and 35 years old. They had been charged with crimes including: Assault with a Dangerous Weapon, Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle, Sexual Abuse of a Minor, Grand Larceny, Auto Theft, Assault & Battery, Robbery, Unregistered Firearm, Possession of Narcotics with Intent to Distribute, Unlawful Taking of a Vehicle, Possession of a Controlled Substance.
These punks are an obvious menace to the community, and all those involved in criminal gangs who can be removed should be, regardless of their reasons for coming to this country. And while most Salvadorans with TPS are not criminals, you still can’t help but wonder – where is the “temporary” in TPS?