To the average American, the alphanumeric code “MS-13” may not have any meaning, but that may only be because a person doesn’t live in a community where a violent drug-dealing gang going by that moniker is killing innocent people.
Originally from El Salvador via Los Angeles, the MS-13 gang has come to national prominence in the last two decades.
In communities with large Latino populations, many people have heard the name “MS-13” thrown around, even if they don’t deal with its members on a daily basis. The “MS” stands for Mara Salvatrucha, which approximately translates to “Salvadoran street posse.”
Unfortunately, this colorful name belies the fact that recruits to this group often leave it in only one of two ways: by dying or going to jail. Unlike a local street gang, MS-13 is an international organization, one that now claims more than 70,000 members in up to 10 countries, including El Salvador, Mexico, the United States and Canada.
So active and virulent is this organization that the U.S. Treasury Department has rated it at the same level as the Japanese Yakuza and the Italian Camorra mafia, ordering the group’s assets frozen and its members deported. Deported, because in many cases, the group’s members are illegal immigrants.
These are some of the wonderful people that GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump is referring to when he accuses some immigrants of being criminals; he’s entirely correct in saying that these people pose a clear and present danger to law-abiding American citizens.
MS-13 traffics in drugs, but also runs prostitution, extortion and robbery rackets. Its members regularly clash with other established Latino gangs like the Crips and the Bloods. Such conflicts often lead to bloodshed resulting from “drive-by” or “house party” shootings that have left numerous innocent victims in their wake.
Many of the group’s members can be identified by their MS-13 tattoos or their display of “gang colors”. So zealous are they about showing off and guarding this affiliation that innocent people — teens, in many cases — have faced violence, including murder — simply for wearing the wrong colors in the wrong part of town.
In Brentwood, a community of 60,000 residents on New York’s tranquil Long Island, four teenagers between ages 15 and 19 were found dead in September of this year. Police said they were all victims of MS-13, and they may have been entirely innocent, having perhaps had no previous contact with the group at all.
In fact, in the last six years on Long Island, as many as 30 murders have been attributed to MS-13, many related to drug deals gone bad or unpaid debts, but others having been cases of innocent people being caught in crossfire or “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Many victims, like the young kids in Brentwood, were teenagers.
In Brentwood alone, MS-13 members have been blamed for as many as 14 murders, according to court and police records. All of this has been in the wake of an increase of Central American immigrants to the town in recent years to the point where it is now nearly 70 percent Hispanic, with more than 17,000 residents from El Salvador alone.
Students at local high schools say that gang members have bullied them both in school and outside of it and have torn off pieces of clothing from peers that the gang claimed violated its codes. Longtime residents of Brentwood say the problem has only multiplied in recent years.
“To me, it’s worse than it was before; it’s everywhere,” said Evelyn Rodriguez, the mother of one of the four recent victims, Kayla Cuevas, who was just 16. “This is ridiculous. We need some type of assistance to help our police officers here and see if they can come together to figure out a plan to make things better for the kids now.”
For Ms. Rodriguez, that’s easier said than done. The police chief of Long Island’s Suffolk County where Brentwood is located is on his way to jail for obstruction of justice and civil rights violations; the local district attorney is under investigation by the Feds, and President Obama’s Justice Department has directed area police to handle issues differently after a lawsuit found anti-Latino bias amongst its members.
The new police commissioner, Timothy Sini, said that his department has increased door-to-door checks of residences and instituted more uniformed patrols. The FBI has also gotten involved at a local level with an eight-member task force. But for the recent murders, a total of just one gang member had been brought in for questioning.
Sources in law enforcement said MS-13 often targets new immigrants to join the gang because they are most vulnerable economically. Local officials admitted that some high school students had been “flagged” for possibly having gang affiliations. They said that as many as 25 students in the town’s schools may be affiliated with MS-13 or other gangs.
“So if they are red-flagged, why are they in the school?” asked Ms. Rodriguez. “Kids are being targeted. They’re trying to find some type of safe way to even go to school. Being in school, they always have to look over their shoulder to see who’s walking.”
“We can’t exclude a kid because we suspect they are in a gang,” said Richard Loeschner, the principal at Brentwood Ross High School. “That’s state and federal law that they are entitled to an education.” The school has added random screenings of students with metal detectors to its security procedures, but there are still no metal detectors at the school’s entrances.
Some students are convinced the police can only do so much. “We’re the ones out here, dealing with it all,” said one 16-year-old boy known as Tiny T. “They think they can do something, but they’re just fooling. They can’t do nothing.”
“In the past, it used to be like rival gangs on each other,” said Dr. Levi McIntyre, the town’s school superintendent. “But now it has taken another turn. When it goes after all kids, it’s a whole new realm. It’s tearing the fabric of our community apart.”
Outside the Brentwood funeral home where a wake was being held for Ms. Rodriguez’s daughter, members of the Christian Motorcyclists Association offered protection and comfort for funeral-goers.
Ray Mayo, who heads the Brentwood Association of Concerned Citizens, says “there’s been a huge influx [of illegal immigrants], to be honest with you.” He claimed that undocumented aliens were crowding rental properties in the town. “It seems like a whole new set of gang members who have stirred the pot up.”
One local immigrant named Ana, who was the mother of two young girls, said she is afraid for the future. “It makes me feel bad that people think this of all Salvadorans,” she stated. “Violence was the reason I left — when they killed my brother. And now we are experiencing the same violence [here in the U.S.].”
It is precisely because of crimes like these — exacerbated by the open border policies of President Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton — that Donald Trump and Mike Pence have plans to overhaul the nation’s immigration policies and procedures. Until and unless these new doctrines are put in place, we can expect to see more crimes committed by violent immigrant gangs such as MS-13.