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Who Are MS-13 And Why Does Trump Talk About Them?

by Countable | 7.31.17

In a speech to law enforcement officers on Friday, President Donald Trump said that "blood-stained killing fields," line Long Island, and that the international gang MS-13 are responsible.

Trump was in Brentwood, New York, to deliver remarks on MS-13. The gang originated in Los Angeles but has ties to El Salvador, and has long been a target of Trump’s hardline immigration and anti-crime proposals.

According to Trump, MS-13 has turned "peaceful parks and beautiful, quiet neighborhoods" into veritable war zones akin to “the Old Wild West.” As Trump’s speech continued his descriptions of the violence grew more graphic: “They kidnap, they extort, they rape, and they rob. They prey on children. They shouldn't be here. They stomp on their victims. They beat them with clubs. They slash them with machetes, and they stab them with knives.”

In the past 18 months, Long Island’s Suffolk County has seen 17 killings by the gang.

Back in April, President Trump blamed his predecessor for MS-13: "The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin. allowed bad MS-13 gangs to form in cities across U.S. We are removing them fast!" Trump tweeted.

In actuality, the group, known as Mara Salvatrucha in Spanish, has been around since at least the 1980s. As detailed on, "MS-13 was founded in the ‘barrios’ of Los Angeles in the 1980s. As a result of the civil wars wracking El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua, refugees flooded northward."

Initially, the gang was composed of El Salvadorans, which is how the group gets its name: mara is a term for gang; salva refers to El Salvador; and trucha, which translates to trout, is Central American slang for clever. When the group joined forces with the Mexican mafia, they added the number that corresponds with M in the alphabet: 13.

Then, as explained by Business Insider, in the 1990s "an increase in deportations sent many of the gang's members back to Central America…returning them to countries to which many had no real connections or had never even been to." There, “in unstable post-conflict environments in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the gang grew quickly.”

Since that time, MS-13 has continued to grow; the Justice Department estimates there are over 10,000 members in the U.S. across 40 states and Washington D.C.

Speaking in Long Island in April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said, "We cannot continue with this transporting across our border, illegal immigrants who have not been properly vetted and actually are part of criminal organizations." The AG continued, "The MS-13 motto is 'kill, rape, and control. ... That should tell us enough about the kind of group that we confront."

Sessions was in El Salvador last week, discussing gang violence.

In Friday’s speech, against a backdrop of uniformed Long Island police, Trump blamed the recent MS-13 killings on "America's weak borders and lax immigration enforcement." He told the assembled crowd, "We're getting them out anyway but we'd like to get them out a lot faster." Trump also touted the $1.6 billion Congress has allotted for his border wall with Mexico.

However, some of Trump’s comments drew criticism from civil rights and advocacy communities, for what they said encourages police violence. Directing his comments to the surrounding officers, the President said:

"When you see these towns and when you see these thugs being thrown into the back of a paddy wagon, you just see them thrown in, rough, and I said, ‘Please don’t be too nice.’ Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over, like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody, don’t hit their head. I said, ‘You can take the hand away, OK?’“

The remarks were denounced by the ACLU, International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Police Foundation, among other groups.

During the speech, however, the President’s remarks drew applause. As did his comments aimed at MS-13:

"I have a simple message for you. We will find you, we will arrest you, we will jail you, and we will deport you."

*Tell your lawmakers how you think we should be dealing with gang violence, and groups like MS-13, by tapping the Take Action button.

--Josh Herman

(Photo Credit: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement / Public Domain)


Written by Countable

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