Nations across Central and South America have become overrun by gangs and violent criminals in recent years, exacerbating the U.S. immigration crisis as individuals seek to escape their home countries by illegally crossing the southern border.
For its part, the El Salvadoran government has been cracking down on crime, including by establishing a new high-security prison specifically for gang members.
El Salvador's government moved thousands of suspected gang members to a newly opened ‘mega prison,’ the latest step in a controversial crackdown on crime that has caused the Central American nation's prison population to soar https://t.co/IUL4xjinr5 pic.twitter.com/c7pYyNASBR
— Reuters (@Reuters) February 25, 2023
“They are never going to return to the communities, the neighborhoods, the barrios, the cities of our beloved El Salvador,” proclaimed Justice Minister Gustavo Villatoro.
While this has contributed to safer streets across that country, some American experts are concerned that those criminals who have not yet been arrested will consider escaping El Salvador — potentially destined for the United States.
Villatoro acknowledged that at least some of the suspected gang members “are in Mexico, and that from there they are giving instructions in a cowardly manner.”
Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies explained the motivation that many of these El Salvadoran criminals have for crossing the border into the U.S.
“They can make more money here and enjoy themselves more here, and there are many new places for them to set up shop for the gang and many vulnerable youth to recruit,” she said.
Making matters worse, Vaughan noted, is the lax border-security policies of the Biden administration.
“Right now it’s not difficult for them to get in,” she added. “There is much less threat of border and interior enforcement than in prior years, especially if they have not been in the United States before.”
Amid an uptick in the number of MS-13 gang members apprehended at the southern border since President Joe Biden’s inauguration, there is no way to know the number of violent criminals who were able to evade overworked border agents and disappear within communities across the United States.
Once embedded in American cities, gang members begin recruiting locally, as Prince William County, Virginia, gang response team coordinator Henry Pacheco said in 2019.
“Gangs tend to prey on their own community,” he said. “There are kids that have joined gangs here, Hispanic gangs, and they’ll tell you, ‘I don’t want to do it, but I have to do it. I’m stuck. They know my grandparents back in El Salvador. They know my uncles, aunts. If I don’t do what they say, they’re going to get whacked or something.’ There’s that blackmail part of it that’s true.”