Take Back the Suburbs

By Jessica M. Vaughan on August 10, 2010

The article in today's Washington Times about a cluster of medium-sized cities starts with a description of ubiquitous gang graffiti and goes on to relate incidents of major heroin and meth busts, abductions, assassinations, extortion, kickbacks, and marginally qualified public officials earning obscene taxpayer-funded salaries while protecting their mobster associates. Molotov cocktails explode in front of the homes of candidates for public office; others (those few who don't seem to be targets of grand jury investigations) are shot at or receive telephone death threats. One city councilman sports gang tattoos; a city employee has pled guilty to making criminal threats against colleagues.

The story reads like yet another report on Mexico's descent into narco-statehood, but in fact the story takes place in contemporary Los Angeles County, specifically the cities of Bell, Cudahy, and Maywood. It represents a chilling case study of how criminal gangs, enriched by drug trafficking and comprised largely of illegal immigrants, have literally taken over these towns.

The gang most responsible for this state of affairs is 18th Street. About 80 percent of its California membership is reportedly illegal aliens. According to arrest records provided to me by ICE in connection with my ongoing research on the immigrant gang problem, ICE has arrested about 700 members and associates of the 18th Street Gang in the last five years, not just in California but also in places like Salt Lake City, Charleston, Omaha, Sioux Falls, as well as Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, San Francisco, Long Island, and the other known hubs for immigrant gangs. Most of the 18th Street members are from Mexico, but ICE has also removed 18th Street members to El Salvador, Honduras and other parts of Central America, and a number of other countries, including Armenia and Sri Lanka. In addition to being illegal aliens, they have committed crimes such as armed robbery, assault on police officers, homicide, domestic violence, and drug dealing.

The power and influence of 18th Street is boosted by a partnership with the Mexican Mafia, a large confederation of prison gangs with street gang connections that also works with Mexican drug cartels and other crime syndicates. These organizations are arguably the most serious public safety threat to America today; they are not waging jihad, but they are making life more miserable for the many ordinary people who have to live in their midst and suffer harm from their crimes. As the ICE arrest records indicate, their activity is not confined to Mexico or even to the southwest border region. The problem here is not just "spillover violence," but an infestation of organized transnational crime supported in part by blatant public corruption of the sort most Americans probably think has been largely eradicated along with polio, or confined to other countries.

Because so many of the gang members are foreign nationals who are removable, robust immigration law enforcement is one of the most effective tools to rid communities of this scourge (at least the gangsters; the voters and grand juries have to take care of the politicians). Fortunately, gang members are one of the few types of illegal aliens that ICE agents are still allowed to arrest on the street, although if certain congressional appropriators and certain Obama administration appointees got their way, even that would be verboten. For the sake of public safety, ICE leadership should resist pressure from ethnic and civil liberties advocacy groups to confine immigration law enforcement to those illegal aliens already in jail, and continue to work with local cops and sheriffs to put 18th Street and its transnational partners out of business and out of America.