Studyspark Study Document

Predominantly Latino Gangs, Mara Salvatrucha Thesis

Pages:40 (17380 words)




Document Type:Thesis



Since gang-related crimes fall within the jurisdiction of state, this research will give an insight on the need to find solutions that increasingly include all levels of government. Congress needs to pass legislation that will change immigration enforcement laws and make more aliens deportable. In addition, the federal government should take a more active participation in helping local and state jurisdictions develop anti-gang responses. The local, state and federal governments must take a stand, and combine forces to combat the immigration problem that continue to plague this country into the next generation.

Importance of the Study

The die has been cast, there is no turning the clock back now and the Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street Gang have established themselves in the United States and far beyond. The origins of the current situation with MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang date back to the late 1980s and early 1990s when the Salvadoran civil war produced a mass exodus to the United States and thousands of children of Salvadoran refugees who had fled for their lives frequently found themselves joining the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Eighteenth Street gangs as a matter of survival. For instance, Lineberger and Padgett (2011) advise that, "Of the estimated 701,000 Salvadoran immigrants, a substantial number sought sanctuary in southern California. Characterized by illegal status in the United States, a majority of the Salvadoran newcomers remained in poverty, constantly fearing arrest and deportation" (p. 9). During the early 1990s, the mass deportation policies that were followed for gang members that were adjudicated guilty of crimes in the United States resulted in El Salvador receiving seasoned gang members and the American-style gang culture (Kontos, Brotheron & Barrios, 2003). According to these authorities, "Within just a few years, veteran gang members were making names for themselves on the west coast of El Salvador and a short time later, on the country's east coast as well" (Kontos, Brotherton & Barrios, 2003, p. xv).

The results of an analysis of the security threat represented by these criminal gangs conducted by Boraz and Bruneau (2006) support these findings and add that the maras emerged from conflicts in E1 Salvador, as well as Guatemala and Nicaragua during the 1980s. According to these authorities, "Thousands of people fled north, including a large number of young men who had fought on the governments' side or with the insurgents. Many of these young men went to Los Angeles, but because they were poorly educated, few were able to find work" (Boraz & Bruneau, 2006, p. 63).

With their origins in a troubled land and with few or no marketable skills, these young Latin Americans found themselves in an environment where they could only survive if they used what they knew. In this regard, Boraz and Bruneau (2006) emphasize that, "In a city already structured in terms of gangs, their familiarity with guns and armed combat was their one advantage. Some were incorporated into such neighborhood gangs as the African -- American Crips and Bloods; the Mexican-American, illegal-immigrant gang EME; and the Mexican Mafia" (p. 63). It is significant that even if these young people do manage to make it to the United States and evade detection by law enforcement and resist the powerful inducements to join MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang by one of their numerous cliques, they do not receive any special treatment from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly INS), even though such rejection places them at potential risk from gang members and law enforcement authorities alike. In this regard, the U.S. Department of Justice's Board of Immigration Appeals specifically held that:

Neither Salvadoran youth who have been subjected to recruitment efforts by the MS-13 gang and who have rejected or resisted membership in the gang based on their own personal, moral, and religious opposition to the gang's values and activities nor the family members of such Salvadoran youth constitute a 'particular social group' asylum and therefore [does not afford] protection under the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. (24 I&N Dec. 579-2008)

This policy means that young Salvadorans have few options available to them but to join up with some of the most vicious street gangs in the world just to survive: "Indeed, the Mara Salvatrucha are often compared to their notorious northern counterparts in Los Angeles -- the Crips and the Bloods" (Hondagneu-Sotelo, 2007, p. 102). A survey conducted of more than one thousand gang members from the 18th Street Gang and Mara Salvatrucha in San Salvador provides some indication that the majority of these gang members are seeking respect and friendship, as well as a personal identity and some type of replacement for the families they have lost (Kontos et al., 2003). According to these researchers, "Twice as many respondents considered drug addiction their biggest problem as compared with the next-highest-ranked problem, unemployment. When asked about their future dreams, jobs topped the list, followed by a stable family" (Kontos et al., 2003, p. 290). More than 80% of the youths interviewed reported that violence was a negative factor of gang life that they would like to see ended, and almost 7 in 10 of these gang members said they had lost a family member or close friend as a result of gang activity (Kontos et al., 2003). Moreover, more than 50% of the respondents indicated they had been injured seriously enough to require hospitalization as result of their gang involvement and almost all of the gang members participating in the survey were "fatalistic about change and skeptical of politics" (Kontos et al., 2003, p. 290).

Notwithstanding the initial pattern of dissemination within the U.S., more and more of these Salvadoran immigrants were drawn together through national and cultural ties and these disenfranchised youths gravitated towards their own gang affiliation in the MS-13 or 18th Street Gang, but with little love lost between the two organizations. According to Bruneau and Boraz, "Some of the men, especially those from El Salvador, joined the multi-ethnic 18th Street Gang. Other Salvadorans founded the Mara Salvatrucha (Group of Smart, or savvy, Salvadorans) 13, or MS-13, to compete with the 18th Street Gang because they believed the Salvadorans in that gang were traitors" (p. 64). The name of the MS-13 gang was also taken from the street where many of them originally lived, just as the 18th Street Gang did (Bruneau & Boraz, 2006). Given their propensity for violent crime and illegal activities, it was not long before these gang members ran afoul of the American criminal justice system and many were sentenced to prison in the U.S., where most of them simply learned new criminal skills and techniques or honed their existing ones (Bruneau & Boraz, 2006).

After the federal government tightened immigration laws in the 1990s and the civil conflicts in Guatemala and El Salvador subsided, law enforcement authorities opted to deport many of these gang members to their countries of origin when they had completed serving their prison sentences (Bruneau & Boraz, 2006). Following their return to their respective countries and cities of origin, including San Salvador, Guatemala City and San Pedro Sula, the now-hardened and street-smart maras were able to exploit the war-ravaged societies to their advantage. According to Bruneau and Boraz, "Clicas (cliques, cells, or groups) deported from the United States established MS-13 in San Salvador in 1992, replacing less violent and less sophisticated gangs. The 18th Street Gang became M-18 and was established in El Salvador in 1996 with three clicas" (2006, p. 64). Capitalizing on these initial footholds, and membership in both MS-13 and the 18th Street Gangs rapidly increased as they drove out less experienced, less violent and less organized gangs.

Although precise figures are difficult to come by, current estimates by El Salvador's National Police (PNC) indicate that there are around 36,000 MS-13 and 18th Street Gang members in Honduras, 14,000 in Guatemala, 11,000 in El Salvador, 4,500 in Nicaragua, 2,700 in Costa Rica, 1,400 in Panama, and 100 in Belize (Boraz & Bruneau, 2006). These figures total approximately 70,000 members from these just two gangs in these Central American countries. Besides the 18th Street Gang and MS-13, there are other active gangs in these Central American countries, including La Maquina (the Machine) in El Salvador; La Mau Mau, Los Batos Locos, and Los Rockeros (the Rockers) in Honduras; the Gerber Boys and Los Charly in Nicaragua; in addition, there are the Los Cholos (the Half Breeds), Los Nicas (the Nicaraguans), and Los Batos Locos (the Crazy Boys) in Guatemala; La Mau Mau (this name was taken from the name of rebels in Kenya and a notorious New York gang in the 1950s) (Boraz & Bruneau, 2006).

It is important to note, though, that the MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang are not restricted to these Central American countries and have expanded their transnational operations to a global level in recent years. In fact, although total membership numbers are difficult to gauge, current estimates indicate…

Sample Source(s) Used


Armstrong, W. (2009, February 16). 'Sanctuary cities' protect murderous illegal aliens. Human Events, 64(37), 8.

Bansal, M. (2006) Chertoff: Street Gangs a Threat to National. Retrieved November 12,

2006 from

Barber, B. (1996). Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism are Reshaping the World. New York: Ballantine Book.

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