Feds Target L.A. Gang that U.S. Deportation Policy Helped Expand

Friday, October 12, 2012

The U.S. Department of the Treasury has designated a street gang with Los Angeles roots as an international criminal group, allowing the federal government to target the finances of a gang for the first time.

MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, was started in the Rampart section of Los Angeles by refugees from war-torn El Salvador in the 1980s. The already battle-hardened members (many of them former soldiers) thrived locally, but the gang’s connections to Central Americans in other U.S. cities and foreign nations developed over time, assisted by the U.S. deportation policy.

A Los Angeles Times report in October 2005 documented the growth of MS-13 from a few thousand local members into an international powerhouse—specializing in extortion, human trafficking, drug smuggling and racketeering—in 12 years, while 50,000 immigrants with criminal records were being deported. MS-13 members landed back in El Salvador, where they thrived in a poor, violent, loosely governed nation.

The Times story said that 700 MS-13 had been arrested in 2005, with deportation as the government’s eventual goal, and concluded that, “For a sizable number of MS-13 members, deportation is little more than a taxpayer-financed visit with friends and family before returning north.”

By 2008, according to the FBI, MS-13 was operating in 42 states and the District of Columbia. It estimated gang membership at 6,000-10,000 nationwide and called it “America's Most Dangerous Gang.” MS-13 is said to be allied with several Mexican cartels.

The gang relies on financial institutions to manage its significant assets, and Treasury’s action gives the government tools to disrupt transfers, seize and freeze holdings, monitor transactions, identify networking and reach into the heart of the organization in ways it could not do before.     

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Feds Target Gang Born in L.A. (by Hector Becerra, Danielle Ryan and Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times)

Street Gang MS 13 Designated a Transnational Criminal Organization (by Alicia A. Caldwell, Associated Press)

Gang Uses Deportation to Its Advantage to Flourish in U.S. (by Robert J. Lopez, Rich Connell and Chris Kraul, Los Angeles Times)

Mara Salvatrucha―MS-13 (Gangs or Us)

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