Six Illegal Aliens Charged in Alleged MS-13-Related Killing in Baltimore County

Locality that rejected 287(g) has a chance at a do-over

By Andrew R. Arthur on September 6, 2019

Six aliens unlawfully present in the United States were among the seven who were recently charged in a gang-related killing that occurred in July in suburban Baltimore County, Md. That case reveals two things: (1) MS-13 is spreading throughout a state in which they already have a major presence and (2) the county should have adopted a 287(g) policy when it had the chance more than two years ago.

Here are the details, from local NBC affiliate WBAL:

According to investigators, the victim made a hand gesture associated with a certain gang, and a rival gang killed him because of that.

A small memorial now marks the area where Daniel Cuellar died.

"Multiple people stabbed him multiple times. We know from the medical examiner that the trauma caused to his body was knife wounds," Officer Jennifer Peach, of the Baltimore County Police Department, said.

According to police charging documents, the weapons used were a machete and a smaller knife. Police said this is not a random act of violence, but neighbors we spoke with are still worried.


Officials have identified all as MS-13 members in ICE gang databases.

Five of those charged are Salvadoran nationals and one is a Mexican national, all unlawfully present in the United States.

The suspects reportedly followed Cuellar to a local laundromat and watched him there. As the victim was returning home, half of the suspects attacked him, and then fled in a car belonging to one of them. Interestingly: "On August 14, that car was stopped in Mississippi and everyone in the vehicle was taken into custody for reasons not related to the murder of Cuellar."

It should be noted, for those of you who are not familiar with the Free State, that Baltimore County is a separate municipality from sanctuary jurisdiction Baltimore City, where murder is a much more common occurrence (so common that the city government has its own "Baltimore Homicide Map"). My parents lived in the neighborhood where the killing occurred after they got married, and the body was found a block away from the local Catholic elementary school. It is not a bad place to live and raise children. Well, it wasn't until now.

Maryland has had a problem with MS-13 for a while. For example, my former colleague Preston Huennekens reported in July 2018 on a federal indictment that had been handed down by a Baltimore grand jury charging 24 members of the gang with various offenses, including 11 who were indicted for conspiracy to commit murder.

The ICE press release related to that incident stated:

MS-13 is a national and international gang composed primarily of immigrants or descendants from El Salvador. Branches or "cliques" of MS-13, one of the largest street gangs in the United States, operate throughout Frederick County, Anne Arundel County, Prince George's County, and Montgomery County, Maryland.

The agency can add a new municipality to that list.

In addition to murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and attempted murder, the indictment in that case included charges relating to "extortion, robbery, kidnapping, drug trafficking, and money laundering." Not the sort of activity that one would expect is countenanced by government officials in the richest state in the nation.

But countenanced it is, in large part because Maryland is home to a number of sanctuary jurisdictions (including Montgomery County and Prince George's County). In April 2018, Huennekens and my colleague Jessica Vaughan wrote a post captioned "Dozens of Gang Members Released By Sanctuary Policies". It stated:

According to ICE statistics provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee, over a nine-month period in FY2017, 142 gang members that ICE was seeking to deport were released by the local law enforcement agency instead of transferred to ICE custody. Two-thirds of the releases occurred in California, which has had a strict sanctuary policy in effect since January 2014. Fifteen of the aliens were members of the MS-13 gang and 127 were members of other gangs.


Most of the MS-13 gang member releases were in Maryland, with five MS-13 members released by Montgomery County and four by Prince George's County. Our research has documented a significant MS-13 problem in Maryland, finding 84 MS-13 members arrested between 2012 and 2018 in Maryland, second only to the gang's birthplace in California.

Although Baltimore County is not designated as a "sanctuary county", the county council voted in June 2017 against a proposal to cooperate with ICE under the 287(g) program in a vote that I wrote about in October of that year:

As the Baltimore Sun reported, with respect to Baltimore County Council Bill 32-17:

A bill to enlist the Baltimore County jail into a federal immigration screening program drew divided views from residents Tuesday [, May 30, 2017] — the latest local take on an issue that has sparked debate in communities across the nation.

At a hearing that lasted nearly two hours — and was preceded by an opposition rally attended by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz — residents lined up to either support the bill as a way to help root out illegal immigrants who are committing crimes, or reject it as a program that sows fear among otherwise law-abiding people.

Baltimore County's bill was eventually "tabled", that is, "effectively killed", in a June vote of 5-2 when one of the Republican cosponsors withdrew his support. As the Sun reported, that member "said he grew to have some reservations about the bill. He drafted amendments that would have made participation in the program a pilot for a limited amount of time, limited it to only screening convicted felons, and required an audit."

So much for concerns about 287(g) "sow[ing] fear." The criminals take care of that themselves.

I stated in that post:

The reports of MS-13 activity out of Anne Arundel County show that the gang is increasing its reach north. It is just a matter of time, then, before Baltimore City and Baltimore County are exposed to the violence that their southern neighbors are facing.

In fact, MS-13 did have a presence in the Baltimore area a decade ago before a federal crackdown sent several of its local leaders to jail. Today, gang graffiti has been spotted as far north as Bel Air in Harford County, which sits to the northeast of both Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties.

Notably, Baltimore County has a population of immigrant students similar to the ones who [Montgomery County State's Attorney John] McCarthy described as being targeted in the Montgomery County school system for gang recruitment. As the Baltimore Sun reports, the county's "school system added more than 800 new English learners to its student rolls between October 2015 and 2016. Most of the influx of new students were refugees, undocumented immigrants from Central America, and native born children from families that speak only Spanish at home." Protecting those students should have been of paramount importance to the Baltimore County Council; ironically, however, in an attempt to "protect" immigrant communities, it ran the risk of exposing those students to the same criminal predations that their neighbors to the south must endure. [Emphasis added.]

This is one of those occasions when I would have preferred not being correct.

I must note that there have been no press reports that any of the six illegal aliens charged in the slaying of Cuellar were previously arrested, or were, in particular, previously arrested in Baltimore County, although all are from in or near the area. They were obviously arrested in Mississippi for some reason, however. Perhaps it was simply because they had a broken taillight, or were arrested by local police because they were in the United States illegally (there's a concept) after a stop for another reason. Murder is hardly an offense that a group of [alleged] criminals jumps right to, however.

Baltimore County has a new county executive, Johnny Olszewski Jr. (D). Following reports of the killing, the Baltimore Sun reported: "Olszewski said gang activity — all gang activity — is a problem throughout the Baltimore region that his administration takes 'very seriously.'" It continued:

Olszewski remains concerned about the number of homicides in the county this year, but he said they're "actively going after that" problem. In addition to "the everyday work" police do to monitor neighborhoods, he said the Baltimore County Police Department has a team to address gang activity. Part of this team's work involves regularly monitoring social media "and other sorts of communication" to identify and disrupt criminal activity, he said.

Olszewski also said the newly announced federal "strike force" composed of detectives, prosecutors and federal agents from across the region will help target and disrupt drug gangs within the Baltimore region.

"We're taking one more step about being proactive to ensure that not just Baltimore County residents, but that residents in the entire region are safe," he said. "We're stopping crime at its root." [Emphasis added].

The paper does not state whether ICE is part of that "federal 'strike force'", but it plainly should be. And, as for "stopping crime at its root," one of the best ways for Olszewski to do that is for the county executive to reverse his predecessor's objection to 287(g).

Monitoring social media in an attempt to crack down on gangs is a fine idea. Monitoring who goes in and out of your jail, and handing those criminals who are illegally present in the United States to ICE, is much more effective, however.