WASHINGTON—Immigration and justice department officials announced the arrest of 214 MS-13 gang members in an operation carried out from Oct. 8 to Nov. 11. Another 53 were arrested in El Salvador in an earlier operation.
MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, has been a renewed target under the new administration, mainly because its members carry out particularly vicious crimes and most members are in the United States illegally.
“MS-13 members use violence to defend and augment their power and territory,” said David Rybicki, deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice’s criminal division border patrol.
“They distribute illegal narcotics, they traffic in women and girls, and they extort business owners … sending the proceeds back to El Salvador,” he said at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) headquarters on Nov. 16.
Five members of MS-13’s Sailor’s clique in Maryland who were arrested are alleged to have participated in three murders and had planned a fourth, between July 2016 and June 2017, said Rybicki.
“The indictment alleges that in July 2016, several members and associates of the Sailors clique lured a victim to a secluded area, attempted to shoot the victim, and then stabbed the victim to death,” he said.
Of the 214 arrested, 193 are in the United States illegally, 16 are U.S. citizens, and five are foreign nationals with legal status.
Sixty-four had crossed the border illegally as unaccompanied minors—most of whom are now adults.
The 198 foreign nationals arrested were from El Salvador (135), Honduras (29), Mexico (17), Guatemala (12), Ecuador (4), and Costa Rica (1).
MS-13 formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s as Salvadorans fled a civil war. The gang has since spread throughout the United States and Central America, with the operational center being in El Salvador. An estimated 10,000 members live in the United States, according to the Justice Department.
The arrests were the second phase of an operation dubbed “Operation Raging Bull” that netted 53 gang members in El Salvador in September after an 18-month investigation.
The operation within El Salvador was carried out by local law enforcement, with assistance from ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations. The investigation focused on the gang’s Stoners Locos clique, which had generated $1.9 million in illicit revenue since 2015 through crimes such as extortion, robbery, vehicle theft, money laundering, assault, and homicide, according to ICE.
“MS-13 maintains sophisticated global network that supports its involvement in a wide range of criminal activities—in this country and others,” said Thomas Homan, ICE deputy director and senior official performing the duties of the director.
“These same gang members are taking advantage of immigrant communities in which they live—committing acts of horrendous violence against its residents, attracting violence from rival gangs, extorting small businesses, peddling street-level narcotics, and coopting the youth and recruiting them into this gang.”
Border Patrol Deputy Chief Scott Luck said his agents in the Rio Grande Valley Border Sector in Texas worked with the El Salvadoran joint border intelligence crew to detect, identify and collect information for confirmed MS-13 gang members within the United States.
“The MS-13 gang is a dangerous menace to our children, families, and citizens of not just the United States, but internationally,” Luck said.
He said during the operation, Border Patrol identified additional MS-13 gang members, who are now on the transnational organized crime watchlist.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) assisted by delving into the asylum claims and other immigration benefits the target MS-13 members applied for.
The Justice Department has secured convictions against more than 1,200 gang members so far this year, according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The department has also worked with Central American authorities to arrest and charge around 4,000 MS-13 members.