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Facts: Gang War USA

Photo: Gang-Members

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  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), formed in 2003, is the primary investigative division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Employing 20,000 people domestically and abroad, ICE has offices located in every state in the U.S. and in 48 other countries.

  • Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) agents and officers are responsible for locating and removing people who are in the U.S. illegally, including criminal and fugitive immigrants. El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico account for nearly 92 percent of all removals from the U.S., and of those, Mexican nationals accounted for 73 percent in 2010.

  • The transnational gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, began on the streets of Los Angeles in the 1980s. It was formed by Salvadoran immigrants, who fled their country during the civil war, as a means to protect one another from the other Latin gangs that were bullying them. Many were former guerilla fighters who brought their war experience and a hardened attitude towards life and death.

  • MS-13 is now present in more than 40 U.S. states with an estimated 10,000 members. Membership is reportedly close to 60,000 in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, combined, and there are more members living in six different countries in the Americas.

  • After the U.S. government began deporting MS-13 members during the mid-1990s, new “cliques” began forming all across Latin America. This has led to the violent, transnational MS-13 known today.

  • Though the U.S. government has implemented a policy of deportation for convicted gang members, many return to the U.S. illegally. The U.S. government has arrested over 3,000 alleged MS-13 members between 2005 and 2010.

  • In response to the continued growth of transnational gangs across the U.S. and Central America, Congress allocated 100 million dollars in past three years alone to fight this trend.

  • MS-13 “cliques” typically move from one region to another in order for members to find work or to be close to their relatives. They are often able to obtain employment in blue-collar jobs that do not closely examine immigration documents. Recruitment into MS-13 takes place through the glamorization of the gang lifestyle and by taking in smaller gangs in the area, allowing membership to continue to grow.

  • As of March 2011, more than 15,000 individuals were identified as gang members in North Carolina. This number includes around 3,500 individuals who are currently incarcerated.

  • Currently, there are an estimated 11 million people in the country without legitimate documentation. In 2010, the government spent close to $5 billion dollars deporting nearly 393,000 individuals at the cost of $12,500 per person.

  • Starting in the 1970s, urban gangs began moving to suburban areas in order to increase their size and to sell to a new market of drug users. By the 1990s, suburban gangs were commonplace.

  • MS-13 members are known to wear blue and white clothing and to initiate new recruits through something known as getting “jumped in”, which involves getting beaten by other gang members for 13 seconds.

  • According to El Salvador's director of prisons, of the total 24,526 prison population, 8,500 belong to gangs - among them 18th Street, the MS and others.

  • MS-13 gang members’ weapon of choice in violent criminal activities is the machete, a commonly used tool to harvest crops in El Salvador. It’s used because of its efficiency and relative silence.

  • MS-13 has become more organized in its criminal activity, evolving from its origins as a street gang. They now are able to extort money from local businesses as payment for protection, which in turn discourages people from coming forward and talking to authorities.

  • In February 2011, ICE arrested the 20,000th gang member since it began its anti-gang program in 2005.

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