The Washington Post this week published a long piece showing how the illegal immigration of young people from Central America, facilitated and even encouraged by the Obama administration, has led to the rebirth of the vicious MS-13 gang in the U.S.
The flow of so-called Unaccompanied Alien Children (UACs) is so obviously the cause of the gang’s revival that the Post’s reporters have to acknowledge it up front: “MS-13’s new push has been fueled by the recent influx of teenage immigrants like Danny, who traveled to the United States without guardians to escape poverty and gang violence only to fall back into it here.”
The tragedy for the gang’s victims profiled in the Post is that MS-13, having been formed by Salvadoran paramilitaries in Southern California during an earlier wave of illegal immigration, had finally been cut down to size. As the Post wrote: “MS-13 was waking after a long dormancy. Top-level prosecutions in Maryland, Virginia and Long Island had effectively decimated MS-13 in the mid-2000s, and its activity had fallen off.”
Enter the Obama administration. From 2009 to 2014, the number of UACs apprehended by the Border Patrol, mostly teenaged boys, increased 13-fold from El Salvador, 15-fold from Guatemala, and 19-fold from Honduras. Despite tendentious suggestions to the contrary, this was not a natural, unavoidable development. The increased crime and disorder in these three so-called Northern Triangle countries of Central America no doubt sparked greater interest in heading to El Norte, but it was Obama’s response to the initial flow that transformed it into a flood.
Mexicans caught at our southern border are sent back right away with relatively little fuss. But Mexico won’t take back non-Mexicans — even though its officials often wave people through on their way north — so returning these OTMs (Other Than Mexicans) to their countries takes more time. That presents the authorities with two options: either detain them until they can be repatriated or, if you run out of detention space, give them a summons to report to an immigration court (called a “notice to appear”) and let them go, even though it could be years before their scheduled court dates.
Past surges of OTMs overwhelmed detention space, and the illegals started to be released. That induced even more people to come, causing the Border Patrol to quickly change direction, scrambling to detain all comers — and the surges quickly subsided. This happened with Nicaraguans in 1988–89 and Brazilians in 2005.
When the latest surge of Central Americans started, the Obama administration never pivoted to detention. Instead, it spent years on the “let them go” option, approaching the surge as a humanitarian issue rather than a law-enforcement matter. Most groups of illegals that included a child (“family units,” they were called, even though many of the children were borrowed or rented for the purpose) were given the summons and dropped off at the bus station. As for the supposedly unaccompanied children — virtually all of whom were accompanied by smugglers, who directed them to flag down the Border Patrol once in the U.S. — instead of prompt repatriation, Obama invoked a part of the law that was intended to protect kids who were the victims of human trafficking (basically, sex slavery), even though few if any of them were. Using that trafficking law as a pretext, Obama declared that all arriving minors would be allowed to enter for resettlement in their chosen destination, and released to their parent or sponsor with few questions asked. They were flown, at taxpayer expense, to join their (usually illegal) relatives who had paid to have them smuggled in the first place. This led a federal judge, in a ruling in a smuggling trial, to decry the government’s collusion with the smugglers: “Instead of arresting [the mother of the child in question] for instigating the conspiracy to violate our border security laws, the DHS delivered the child to her — thus successfully completing the mission of the criminal conspiracy.”
The result was predictable — the illegals who had been given “permisos” (“permits,” as they came to call the summonses) sent word back that the border was open to them, and they started streaming north. The numbers of Central American “unaccompanied alien children” doubled in 2012, doubled again in 2013, and doubled again in 2014. In the summer of that year, people started to notice, and the Obama administration had a political problem on its hands.
The numbers of Central American ‘unaccompanied alien children’ doubled in 2012, doubled again in 2013, and doubled again in 2014. But it still didn’t change the policies that were inducing illegals in the U.S. to send for their kids, with administration officials clinging Baghdad Bob–style to the notion that the flow was purely a result of conditions in Central America. The administration sought to address the political problem by bribing/threatening Mexico to step up enforcement at its own southern border, to prevent the Central Americans from making it to the Rio Grande in the first place. This caused a significant drop in 2015, but since the underlying response to the illegals who made it through was unchanged, the flow surged back last year.
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday on MS-13 and immigration, Carla Provost, acting head of the Border Patrol, described how the gang benefited from Obama’s policies:
MS-13 took full advantage of these flows of foreign nationals into the United States by hiding in these populations to enter our country. As a result, American citizens have died, and domestic law enforcement across the nation has had to deal with the burden of MS-13 violence and drug-dealing on American streets on a daily basis.
With the start of the Trump administration, illegal immigration of all kinds across the Mexican border has fallen. The handcuffs that Obama had clapped onto the Border Patrol and ICE have been removed and DHS is expanding its capacity to detain apprehended illegals, though some continue to be released.
This restoration of normal immigration enforcement is clearly working. As Matthew Albence, head of the ICE division that oversees detention and deportation, responded to a question at Wednesday’s Senate hearing:
We do know from intelligence reports back at the height of the UAC crisis that there was a pull factor from the thought that there were lax immigration enforcement policies. We feel that the more robust enforcement and the fidelity to the Immigration and Nationality Act, the way we’re enforcing it, is preventing and deterring, so there is no incentive for these individuals to come, because they feel like they’re going to be returned.
This is a welcome change, but the subsidence of the surge (for now) is cold comfort to the communities struggling with the revival of MS-13. And it’s not just in the Washington area. Obama’s fecklessness has created an MS-13 crime wave from the Long Island, N.Y., communities of Brentwood and Central Islip to Santa Maria, Calif., and in the many other communities in between where Central American teenagers were shipped.
The lesson: The Obama approach of enforcing immigration law only against illegal aliens who have been convicted of violent crimes is a recipe for disaster. Public safety requires steady, consistent, across-the-board immigration enforcement.