A "dangerous side effect" of America's failure to control the Southwest border and the nation's tolerance for high levels of illegal immigration has resulted in the spread of violent transnational gangs across the United States, including Maryland, Virginia and Washington, a report says.
A report written for the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) says the gangs represent a "significant menace to the public," with about 80 percent of the members involved in serious crimes in addition to immigration violations and another 40 percent having committed violent crimes.
"The recent emergence and spread of several Hispanic street gangs, most notably MS-13 and 18th Street, has attracted the attention of law enforcement agencies and political leaders nationwide," said Jessica M. Vaughan, an author of the report, which was made public Tuesday. "Many gangs are made up of small-time troublemakers, but others have a reputation for grisly violence.
"They are responsible for virtually the entire spectrum of criminal activity, from nuisance crimes like graffiti to murder. Some are becoming increasingly well-organized and operating as sophisticated crime syndicates across national borders," she said.
Transnational gangs generally are defined as those that are criminally active and operate in more than one country, whose activities are sometimes controlled or planned by others in another country, whose members are mobile and adaptable in new areas, and whose members tend to be involved in cross-border or international crimes.
The report says nearly half, or 3,080, of the illegal immigrants arrested over the 2 1/2-year period studied as a part of the CIS review were affiliated with MS-13 and Surenos-13, two of the most notorious gangs with largely Hispanic immigrant memberships.
It also notes that nearly 60 percent of alien gangsters arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the investigative arm of the Homeland Security Department, were Mexican citizens, 17 percent were from El Salvador and 5 percent were from Honduras.
"Immigrant gang members rarely make a living as gangsters," Ms. Vaughan said. "They typically work by day in construction, auto repair, farming, landscaping and other low-skill occupations where employers are less vigilant checking status, often using false documents."
The report notes that since 2005, ICE has arrested more than 8,000 gang members from more than 700 different gangs as part of a special initiative called "Operation Community Shield."
The arrests produced "incalculable public safety benefits for American communities, despite being criticized periodically by immigrant and civil liberties advocates that are "consistently opposed to all immigration law enforcement, the report says.
"Local governments and law enforcement agencies that shun involvement in immigration law enforcement are missing an opportunity to protect their communities from criminal immigrant gang activity," said Ms. Vaughan. "Policymakers should take further steps to institutionalize partnerships between state and local law enforcement agencies and ICE in order to address gang and other crime problems with a connection to immigration."
The report says that because a large share of the gangsters in the most notorious gangs such as MS-13, Surenos-13 and 18th Street are illegal immigrants, their illegal status means they are "especially vulnerable to law enforcement, and local authorities should take advantage of the immigration tools available in order to disrupt criminal gang activity, remove gang members from American communities, and deter their return.
"Once explained, these measures find much support, especially in immigrant communities where gang crime is rampant," she said.