MS-13 in America
Written by Brennan Albrecht
This week, a member of the notorious Central American gang MS-13 was apprehended
trying to cross the border into the US with the migrant caravan. This has sparked a resurgence
of the dialogue about the presence and danger MS-13 poses to the United States. One of the
key points crucial to understanding MS-13 is that it is not an organized group as the mob or
drug cartels are. MS-13 has become more of a methodology or ideology for gang members.
There is no evidence of any sort of hierarchy within the gang. Where the gang exists, the
hierarchy is very localized and most violence is committed against other gang members,
defectors, and any others who openly oppose them or resist joining them.
That being said, MS-13 is a violent gang, being guilty of hundreds of murders and other
violent crimes in the US, and many more thousands worldwide. Between 2012 and 2018, the
gang was responsible for some 500 criminal acts in the United States. Many of these acts
include racketeering and extortion. Because the crimes have been so widely publicized by the
media, the USA has developed a narrative that these gang members are highly organized,
intelligent, and have infiltrated every level of government and society. While MS-13 does have a
wide geographic spread ranging from coast to coast, the actual size and threat factor is largely
overblown. And Central America has taken the brunt of it. Thousands of criminals have been
deported back to Central America because of the MS-13 narrative. Of course, the United States
will deport any criminal found illegally dwelling within the country, but doing so under the MS-13
narrative may not be necessary.
One part of MS-13’s actions within the US to consider is its impact on the drug wars and
immigrant smuggling. Some reports suggest that MS-13 members in Mexico are being
employed as the “foot soldiers” of the Zeta and possibly Sinaloa cartels, who also operate
heavily in the United States. Little is known on the actual scale of MS-13’s involvement with the
cartels, but reports have surfaced of MS-13 violence along the border and of threats against
border agents and vigilante groups. MS-13 members have also been indicted for human
trafficking within the US, though it is unclear if they had connections to the cartels.
MS-13 members in the US and Canada tend to be very young. These young men and
women usually come from poor neighborhoods in the large American cities or from poor Central
American families. The gang lifestyle appeals to many of these youth who seek purpose and
belonging in their unstable lives. This has affected how law enforcement approaches MS-13
cases within their localities. Some states have gone so far as to charge young gang members
as adults. Many immigrant gang members have been deported to mass gang prisons in Central
America, which has caused plenty of problems for Central American law enforcement.