As is now well known, the children and families flowing across the U.S.-Mexican border are arriving for two interrelated reasons. One factor is a loophole in a 2008 immigration law that gives minors a relatively better shot at remaining in the U.S. after enduring a certain amount of legal and administrative processing.
So many Central Americans are betting their children’s future on that loophole, however, because law and order in countries like El Salvador is collapsing. In its place, terrifying gangs are consolidating power and spreading chaos after incubating there for decades.
Foremost among these criminal organizations is the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13. Sadly, MS-13 was created in the Rampart district of Los Angeles back in the 1980s, as refugees from that decade’s round of conflict benefitted from a federal amnesty and put down roots.
The amnesty itself was not the source of the gang problem, however. MS-13 formed out of a protective instinct among Salvadoran Angelenos, who were far outnumbered by Mexican residents, and far outclassed by the powerful Mexican gangs that ruled much of L.A.’s criminal underworld.
Those gangs, including the feared Mexican Mafia, owed much of their muscle, reach and financing to the drug trade. When the MS-13 partnered up with the Mexican Mafia, the Salvadorans gained privileged access to the spoils — and the work — of drug crime.
The developments posed a daunting challenge to the LAPD, the state of California and federal authorities alike. In the wake of L.A.’s crippling riots, the Clinton administration adopted a get-tough deportation policy — continued in the Bush years — that sent tens of thousands of criminals back to El Salvador, Mexico and other Central American countries.
Meanwhile, Mexico grew ever more powerless in the face of its drug cartels. And war-torn Central America struggled to contend with the surge of gang members within its borders. Inevitably, the deported criminals linked up with one another, infiltrated the illegal immigration networks that developed despite America’s bipartisan deportation policy and returned in force to American cities.
Now, MS-13 is one of the most dreaded and far-reaching criminal organizations in the Western Hemisphere. They’re using the new border crisis to set up new recruitment centers and transfer hubs. And until the U.S. reforms its drug policies, MS-13 will remain an engine of crime, violence and human displacement — not just in El Salvador, but in Southern California and as far away as Washington, D.C.
Taking some drugs off the black market and out of the hands of gangs like MS-13 isn’t a silver bullet or an excuse to give up on border security. It is, however, an important piece of the puzzle. Our current drug policy helped create the monster we are now strangely surprised to contend with today.
Without a change, however careful and measured, we’re doomed to repeat the past.
— From the Orange County Register