An ATF agent checks his weapon as he gets ready for a raid on May 17, 2017, in Los Angeles. Hundreds of federal and local law enforcement fanned out across Los Angeles, serving arrest and search warrants as part of a three-year investigation into the violent and brutal street gang MS-13.
Jae C. Hong—AP
By Melissa Chan
Updated: January 30, 2018 10:09 PM ET | Originally published: May 17, 2017

During his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Donald Trump repeatedly mentioned the MS-13 street gang, a violent and powerful group that authorities say have wreaked havoc across the United States for decades.

“Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminals, to break into our country,” Trump said of the gang.

“We have proposed new legislation that will fix our immigration laws, and support our ICE and Border Patrol Agents, so that this cannot ever happen again,” he added, referring to a pair of murders in Long Island, New York that authorities have blamed on members of the group. Trump has argued that a crackdown on illegal immigration is necessary to fight groups like the MS-13 gang.

Here’s what to know about the El Salvador-headquartered MS-13 gang:

What is MS-13?

MS-13 is short for Mara Salvatrucha, but the criminal organization is better known by its abbreviation. The group operates in at least 42 states and Washington, D.C. and boasts more than 6,000 members, according to the FBI, which has been trying to stop it for more than a decade. Most members are from El Salvador or are first generation Salvadoran-Americans. MS-13 started in Los Angeles in the late 1980s, although the group has spread toward the East Coast since then, the FBI said.

What is MS-13 accused of?

Federal officials say MS-13 is to blame for decades of gang violence and drug activity across the country. Members usually try to recruit middle and high school students, according to the FBI. MS-13 is believed to be responsible for 15 murders in Suffolk County, N.Y. since last year. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo blasted its members as “thugs” last month while announcing new initiatives to take down the group, local news outlets reported.

The FBI said MS-13 gang members have been known to use machetes to carry out violence. “The MS-13 motto is kill, rape and control,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said during an April visit to Suffolk County, according to the New York Times.

What is being done about MS-13?

In May 2017, nearly two dozen people with ties to the MS-13 street gang were arrested in Los Angeles as part of a long federal investigation. “This gang is responsible for murders — both of rival gangsters and innocent bystanders — as well as drug dealing and extortion in many communities in the Los Angeles area,” Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra Brown said in a statement at the time.

Sessions has also targeted the gang as part of the Trump administration’s larger crackdown on both violent crime and undocumented immigrants.

“Our motto is justice for victims and consequences for criminals. That’s how simple it is. Prosecute them, and after they’ve been convicted, if they’re not here lawfully, they’re going to be deported,” Sessions said last month during his Suffolk County visit.

Sessions said he would beef up the number of prosecutors to the Eastern District of New York, while Cuomo added more than two dozen state police officers to combat the gang violence.

Earlier this month, nearly 1,400 gang members and their affiliates were arrested after a six-week national crackdown on gang activity, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said. More than 100 of them were part of the MS-13, authorities said.


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