Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration may be emboldening the transnational street gang MS-13, which the President has vowed to “dismantle, decimate and eradicate”.
While addressing law enforcement officials on Long Island, New York, the President asserted that previous weak immigration enforcement has allowed the gang to terrorise communities.
“And they were all let in here over a relatively short period of time,” Mr Trump said. “Not during my period of time, believe me. But we’re getting them out. They’re going to jails, and then they’re going back to their country. Or they’re going back to their country, period.”
MS-13, whose formal name is La Mara Salvatrucha, formed decades ago among Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles and has since built a criminal network that spans across the US. It is estimated to have 10,000 members nationwide.
Mr Trump’s visit to the New York county that has been racked by violence attributed to the gang – 17 murders over 18 months, according to The Washington Post – aimed to give “power and poignancy” to his message that more must be done to fight immigration, the newspaper said.
But while Mr Trump has promised to wipe out the gang, the FBI has said it is growing, according to CNN.
Several people familiar with MS-13, including two gang members themselves, told the network they think the President’s crackdown on immigrants is helping the gang because witnesses of crimes are more reluctant to come forward for fear of being deported.
“It’s not like before, where … they (the gang) were more hidden,” said Margarita, whose teenage son was attacked by the gang in suburban New York.
“People can get deported, so they don’t call the police. So they [MS-13] feel more free,” she said.
“I think it’s emboldening them, because this gives them the opportunity to tell immigrants, ‘What are you gonna do? Are you going to report us? They’re deporting other innocent people … [so] they’re going to associate you…