MS-13 is a violent transnational criminal organization. Or, in the common parlance, a gang. A really, really big and scary gang. Barrio 18 (a/k/a 18th Street, The 18, M-18, Mara 18, etc.) is another big, scary gang. These two gangs are largely responsible for tearing apart the Northern Triangle countries of Central America – Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Both gangs – but especially MS-13 – have been played up as the boogeyman that justifies shutting down immigration from Central America, even as they keep driving out the countries’ residents in a pattern that seems more like a flow of refugees than illegal entrants looking to make money working illegally in the US.
To be sure, some gang members from both gangs have come into the US. However, to pretend that violent gang members are pouring across an unsecured southern border is to entertain politically-motivated fantasy.
Today, the Trump administration announced that it’s going to end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Salvadoran nationals. On the surface, there’s a certain logic to this; after all, the conditions that caused the TPS designation in the first place have largely subsided. That’s not to say El Salvador could easily manage to reabsorb approximately 200,000 Salvadorans from the United States (plus perhaps another 200,000 United States citizen children who’ve been born here over the past 15 years), though.
So… little known fact – both MS-13 and Barrio 18, despite the deep roots they enjoy in Central America, were both actually created in the United States. In Los Angeles during the 1980s, gang violence was one of the city’s defining characteristics. MS-13 began as a means for Salvadoran immigrants to protect themselves and each other from the street gangs (Bloods, Crips, 18th Street, etc.) around them in their neighborhoods, while 18th Street served much the same purpose for Mexican immigrants. Both gangs began recruiting other Spanish-speakers and expanded into other areas.
By the late 1990s, the federal government had had enough and cracked down hard. In addition to arrests and incarcerations, there were deportations. Lots and lots of deportations. And all of these gang members went “home” (note that many of them had lived in the US for much of their lives and didn’t really have any familiarity with their nations of citizenship) to fairly poor countries that offered no gainful employment or social support structures. So like Vinnie in My Blue Heaven, they all returned to their previous vocations. Except where Vinnie was a charming rogue who ended up as Fryburg’s Man of the Year when he built a new baseball field, MS-13 and Barrio 18 members preferred to kill people with machetes. Their home nations were woefully unprepared for these new residents with fairly narrow skill sets. They responded with the so-called “mano dura” (iron fist) policies, which put all these gang members in prison together where they could engage in recruitment and vocational training.
The Trump administration’s current plan seems to be to deport all of the Salvadorans who are here on TPS now. The vast majority are not associated with either of these two gangs (though certainly both gangs have more of a presence than they used to); however, we apparently expect that they’ll go back to El Salvador despite the pathetic state of the economy and widespread gang violence that makes the country one of the most dangerous in the world (it has the second-highest murder rate in the world, behind only Honduras, which will undoubtedly lose its TPS designation next time it’s up for review). We don’t deport US citizens, of course, but we all know that deported parents are likely to bring their children; those children, all born within the past 15 years, are prime recruitment age for both gangs. Many will be murdered, but many others will be kidnapped and held for ransom, and thousands will likely end up joining the gangs. And once they’re trained up, they’ll be able to come and go from the US because they’re natural-born citizens.
To say this is short-sighted is an understatement. But then again, everything the CEO does is short-sighted. It’s like everyone else is playing checkers, and Trump is coloring a checkerboard pattern in a coloring book. With one (white) crayon.