Republican Bill Would Clamp Down on Gangs Like MS-13

Republican Bill Would Clamp Down on Gangs Like MS-13
Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) during a television interview on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 20, 2020. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Masooma Haq

Three Republican senators Wednesday unveiled their legislation to increase jail times for gang crimes and create a database for criminal gang activity with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced the Cracking Down on Gangs and Deporting Criminals Act of 2020 (pdf), which intends to make it easier to prosecute gang members by expanding the list of crimes connected to gang activity and allowing for longer jail sentences.

In addition, their bill mandates that any illegal immigrant convicted of gang activity would be referred to the Department of Homeland Security for deportation.

“Gang violence ends innocent lives, ruins families, destroys communities, and spreads fear,” said Loeffler in a statement.

“We must not only work to prevent the formation of gangs, but also to track their members and hold them accountable for their vile actions so we can end the violence and keep the American people safe,” she added.

According to the DOJ, gangs are active throughout the United States, varying ethnically and racially. “Large national street gangs pose the greatest threat because they smuggle, produce, transport, and distribute large quantities of illicit drugs throughout the country and are extremely violent,” the DOJ stated.

President Donald Trump has been cracking down on gangs like MS-13 since taking office, and on July 15 his administration announced the arrest of key MS-13 leadership.

“In 2017, the president directed the Department of Justice to go to war against MS-13, and we did just that,” said Attorney General William Barr. “In coordination with our partners at the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department’s law enforcement components have successfully investigated, charged, and arrested command and control elements of MS-13 responsible for murder.”
A member of the MS-13 gang in Chalatenango prison, north of San Salvador, on March 29, 2019. (Marvin RecinosAFP/Getty Images)
A member of the MS-13 gang in Chalatenango prison, north of San Salvador, on March 29, 2019. (Marvin RecinosAFP/Getty Images)

Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vic Reynolds said there has been a recent escalation of gang violence that is plaguing the nation, saying, “America is in a gang crisis.”

“For years, studies have told us that gang membership in the U.S. exceeds well over 1 million, with gangs responsible for the vast majority of the crimes that spread fear, devastate victims, and decimate our communities the most. Without a doubt, gangs, which honor no jurisdictional boundaries, pose the greatest threat to public safety befalling this nation,” Reynolds said in a statement.

MS-13 is one of the most notorious gangs, composed mainly of immigrants or descendants from El Salvador. Branches of MS-13, one of the largest street gangs in the United States, operate throughout the country.

“Transnational gangs like MS-13 spread violence across our borders and traffic drugs into our communities and schools,” said Blackburn. “Only tough prison sentences and the threat of deportation will send a strong message of zero tolerance to these sophisticated and hardened criminals.”

The GOP legislation requires the creation of a federal street gang database that would help local, state, and federal officials communicate and track criminal activities by gangs. According to the provision, local officials would have to provide information for the database on gang activity in their jurisdiction to receive certain federal grants.

“Criminal gangs prey upon the most vulnerable members of our society, and we should make it easier to take them down,” said Cotton. “Our bill will help law enforcement agencies track gang activity while also empowering prosecutors to bring individual gang members to justice—including the eventual deportation of criminal aliens.”

Jimmy Callaway, City of Morrow chief of police and president of the Georgia Gang Investigators Association welcomed the new legislation.

“By sponsoring a new law that will confront the gang crisis that has terrorized the United States for years, Senator Loeffler has risen above politics and shown that she is willing to put the public safety of Americans—all of them—first,” Callaway said.