5 reasons that current US immigration policy actually strengthens gangs

1. Deportations encourage transnational gang networks

Do you know where the most feared transnational gang, Mara Salvatura or MS-13, started? It wasn’t El Salvador, it was LA. Salvadoran immigrants fleeing from the brutal civil war and US-backed dictatorships in El Salvador formed street gangs to contend with the Mexican gang, “M.” Due to the deportation policies of Ronald Reagan (similar to those of President Trump) in the 1990s, gang members were deported back to their “home” countries in Central America—where they brought their gang membership with them. Once established back in Central America, MS-13 members were able to network with those still in the US to create an international drug trading network, and eventually became a transnational organization running between the “Northern Triangle of Death” (Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala) and the US.

When gang members are deported to other countries, it doesn’t kill their gang membership—it spreads it into a new territory. El Salvador is now ranked as one of the most violent countries in the world because of the gang problem created by deportations from the US.

2. Receiving countries are ill-equipped to handle the influx of gang members

Central America is considerably less stable than the US. The two rival gangs MS-13 and Barrio 18 run the country of El Salvador much more than its actual government does. By deporting gang members to these places, the violence is intensified, and the developing countries do not have the power or resources to deal with it. Prisons are overflowing and inhuman, and more arrive by the day. This fact is what created the transnational gang problem in the first place, violent gang members were deported back to a country they had fled from, still ravaged by the civil war that had torn it apart.

3. Gang recruitment becomes really easy

When any deportee arrives back in Central America or Mexico, they don’t have the means to provide for themselves, especially if they’ve lived in the US for most of their lives. This is the breeding ground for gang membership—desperation and lack of options. Most kids that grow up to become gang members were living on the streets, alone and ignored by society, before the gang picked them up. Within the gangs, they are provided for and given a strong sense of belonging within their community.

In addition, if a deportee arrives back into El Salvador after having tried to escape gang violence in the US, they face retaliation from the gang for their disloyalty. These individuals fear for both their lives, as well as the lives of their families..

4. Mass prisons have proven to help gangs commit more crimes

It is statistically proven that gangs become stronger when all their leadership goes to prison together. Locking away a gang member does nothing—their structure is too flexible and hard to control, and putting them all in the same place allow for reorganization of leadership. Gang leaders simply make hit calls from behind bars, still getting everything done without too much inconvenience. They have a safety and freedom in prison that they don’t even have on the streets.

When gang members arrive in Central America, especially El Salvador, the government has no choice but to stick them in these prisons that become breeding grounds for even more violence.

5. Violence easily boomerangs right back into the US

Gang violence began in the US, what gives us the right to force our problems onto other countries? And what makes us think those issues won’t boomerang right back to our homes?

We are repeating history with our current policies. We think that getting gang members out of the country will fix the problem, but it’s a transnational organization. It doesn’t matter where the individuals are, gangs will continue to, according to the MS-13 motto, “Kill, rape, control.”

This is our problem too. We created it, and we have a responsibility to aid in ending it.