Mara Salvatrucha - also known as MS-13 - is one of the most violent gangs in Central America, the cause of much crime and mayhem in Honduras and El Salvador. But thanks of the US's lax immigration enforcement, it has begun to spread to US cities as well
, following the influx of so many Central Americans into the US.
[Hector Alfonso, a gang analyst for the Miami-Dade Police Department] said his department began encountering MS-13 members in 2002. So far, the department has documented about 100 MS-13 members in Miami-Dade. He said members of smaller and loosely affiliated gangs from California such as Sur-13 have been seen in Miami-Dade but have been misidentified as MS-13 members.
All together, the U.S. Department of Justice estimated there might be as many as 10,000 confirmed MS-13 members throughout the country.
About two-dozen MS-13 gang members have been arrested in South Florida since last summer, including one man in Palm Beach County. Most of their alleged crimes locally have been assaults and robberies, police said.
Ed DeVelasco, a noted gang expert who first began monitoring MS-13 as a police officer in Los Angeles and now is a special agent supervisor for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said most members migrate to Florida as fugitives and are seeking jobs with relatives.
'They go where the population is. We can't say anymore that they're only from El Salvador or Honduras,' said DeVelasco. 'We've seen them from Cuba and Nicaragua. They blend in easy in South Florida because of the large mix of Hispanic population.'
Despite their presence, Mr. Alfonso believes that MS-13 has yet to lay down solid roots in Miami.
'This gang is in its infancy here,' said Hector Alfonso, a gang analyst for the Miami-Dade Police Department. 'They haven't been able to establish themselves. Having a small gang in Miami, in a county of 3 million, that's not something to be too concerned about.'
But MS-13's reputation is such that the mere presence of its members should be cause for alarm. In its Central American homelands, MS-13 "has carried out beheadings and grenade attacks in Central America and is known to hack their enemies with machetes." For this reason, US federal law enforcement officials show more concern than Mr. Alfonso over the growing presence of MS-13 in the US.
They characterize the gang as an army of killers who have gone to war with political groups in Central America and other notorious gangs in California. Immigration authorities who have arrested more than 100 members of the gang over the past month have linked members to drugs, arms and alien smuggling, as well as prostitution, robberies and murders.
MS-13's infiltration of the US is not confined only to border states or even the South; gang members have been arrested on Long Island
in New York.
Hempstead Village police arrested Julio Canas as a member of the MS-13 gang and for being in the country illegally. Eighteen months later, he remains in detention awaiting resolution of his case.
His experience could be a road map for the cases against 30 people arrested on Long Island as undocumented immigrants in the past week in a controversial crackdown on alleged members of MS-13.
Canas remains in holding at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Elizabeth, N.J., even after winning an asylum claim that argued he would be persecuted by Salvadoran government policies and death squads targeting gang members in his homeland.
His victory in May 2004 was appealed by federal prosecutors, and it has yet to be ruled on because there are no time limits for swamped immigration appeal courts.
If the US cannot deport a single illegal alien - not to mention one with ties to a hyper-violent street gang - after eighteen months of legal wrangling, what does that say about the US legal system? Leftwing immigration lawyers have rendered the formerly sensible policy of granting asylum to people facing death or torture in their native lands into a legal artifice for to prevent deportation of any illegal immigrant. The US needs to immediate re-write its asylum laws so that asylum claims would only be considered from a limited number of named countries, and that asylum judgments could only receive one appeal.
Police departments nationwide are trying to crack down on MS-13's spread by arresting those who manifest the gang's telltale insignia
, which include holding copies of gang rules, drawings, writings, video or jewelry, wearing gang tattoos, markings or branding, wearing gang colors, or using gang hand signs or symbols.
'There are people who actually tell us that' they're gang members, said Det. Lt. James Rooney, commanding officer of Suffolk's Criminal Intelligence section.
Beyond that, police use combinations of a dozen indicators to figure out who's in a gang. The signs include wearing gang colors, having a gang-related tattoo and being photographed with known gang members at least four times.
These criteria became the investigative backbone in the arrests this week of 103 members of the notorious Salvadoran gang by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in New York, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Los Angeles, Newark, Miami and Dallas. Thirty of those members resided on Long Island.
The time has come for local governments to begin billing the federal government for the costs associated with arresting, trying and incarcerating illegal aliens. Such attemps have been legally blocked in the past, but a concerted, organized effort by a large number of such municipalities would at least draw dramatic attention to the problem. Especially, if backed by an equally large effort by individual American citizens. So long as American citizens sit by passively and tolerate Washington's policy of inaction with regard to illegal immigration, millions more illegal immigrants and the crime they bring with them will continue to swamp American cities and towns.