The clues are:
(a) Coors Beer
(b) Firestone Tires
And the answer is: “What are things made in America?”
Despite what you may have heard from certain commanders in chief about Central American street gangs invading the United States, Mara Salvatrucha –aka MS-13–and its ilk did not originate in the Northern Triangle of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Trump has claimed that the “weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin allowed bad MS 13 gangs”—one wonders what the good MS 13 gangs might look like—“to form in cities across the US.”
MS-13 began more than 20 years before Obama became president, and it didn’t form in the cities.
It started in California prisons.
In the 1970’s, Central American immigrants or first generation young men who were imprisoned here found themselves at the not-so-tender mercies of African-American, Aryan and Mexican gangs, especially La Eme, the "Mexican Mafia" made up of members from southern California.
Robbed, extorted and raped, the Central Americans–at first Salvadorans– had to organize to survive, and they transformed an old L.A. street gang, Wonder 13, into Mara Salvatrucha–MS-13.
The gang quickly spread from the prisons to the streets of LA, from there to other California cities, and then across the country.
It became more organized, militarized and violent in the 1990’s under the leadership of Ernesto Deras, a veteran of the notoriously brutal Salvadoran special forces who was trained by American Green Berets.
We exported the gang–and its one-time ally turned bitter rival Calle 18– back to El Salvador by deporting undocumented ex-cons back to their home country. They took their gang affiliation with them and spread it through the barrios.
The insatiable American appetite for drugs made the gang powerful.
The Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations, otherwise known as “cartels,” that supply the US with most of its illicit drugs have never been known to let a good source of enforcers go to waste. The Sinaloa Cartel, for instance, recruited MS-13 members as soldiers in its bloody war against the Zetas.
Central America has long been a transshipment point for Mexican cartels importing Colombian cocaine. As such it is valuable turf, and the cartels have allied at various times with MS -13 and Calle 18 to control that real estate.
The gangs fight each other to control the local drug trade in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, a side-effect of the Mexico-US drug trade. The mareros, as the gang members are known, force local kids to join the gang on the threat of death, torture and the rape of family members.
The Trump Administration claims that MS-13 members are hiding inside the caravans of migrants coming north hoping to enter the US. The truth is exactly the opposite: Many people in the caravans are fleeing MS-13 and Calle 18, risking their lives on the dangerous journey through Mexico to escape gang involvement. If sent back, they face execution at the hands of the gangs.
That is, we are using the gangs to justify turning people away from our borders who will then be murdered by gangs that began in the US and that are largely funded by our purchases of illegal drugs.
Is MS-13 a problem in the United States?
Of course it is.
The mareros are unspeakably violent, and Trump is right in acknowledging the grief of families whose kids have been murdered.
But is MS-13 the growing problem he would have us believe, as he seems to delight in describing its atrocities?
According to the Associated Press, citing Justice Department figures, there are about 10,000 MS-13 members in the United States, most of them US citizens. This number has held steady for the last ten years, and makes up less than 1% of American gang membership.
And the gang’s violence in the US is falling, not rising.
The Washington Post’s Michael Miller reports that MS-13 killings in the Washington DC area dropped from 33 in 2016 and 2017 to 7 in 2018. In New York, where the gang killed 26 in 2016-17, there was one in 2018.
Of course, eight killings are eight too many, but the numbers belie the assertion that MS-13 is a growing threat.
Trump’s rhetoric might, in fact, be helping the gang.
Witnesses who might have come forward to testify are afraid of being arrested and deported. Kids who might otherwise attend programs to keep them out of the gang stay away for the same reason. Isolating recent immigrants–especially kids—only drives them into the gang’s hands, as they feel they have nowhere else to go. And the gang itself uses Trump’s depiction of them as powerful, ruthless, and one of the most dangerous gangs in the world as a recruitment tool. He gets them headlines that enhance their prestige.
Trump claims that his administration has moved MS-13 “out of the country by the thousands, by the thousands” and noted that ICE’s Operation Community Shield has resulted in over 4,300 criminal arrests and almost 3,000 civil immigration arrests of MS-13 leaders.
This is true, but as reported by the Washington Post’s Michele Ye He Lee, this campaign dates back to 2005. She goes on to report that the actual deportation of MS-13 members since Trump took office are in the hundreds, not the thousands. Gang members make up only a small proportion of deportations back to Central America.
MS-13 and its kind are a dangerous criminal organization, albeit far more so in Central America then in the United States. But they are not a foreign entity trying to invade across our “open” border or alongside immigrants in a caravan of asylum-seekers.
MS -13 is a native organization.
Born in the USA.