The first wave of unaccompanied minors in 2014 was followed by an uptick in MS-13 gang brutality in the regions where most of the minors were located. MS-13 used the unaccompanied minor program as a recruiting tool, and helpless children found a home in the brutal gang, often either by pressure or for a sense of belonging.
Harris County, Texas, has received the most unaccompanied minors since 2014 (more than 20,000), and state Attorney General Ken Paxton announced he’s “absolutely concerned” regarding the nexus with MS-13, or “Mara Salvatrucha.”
“We’ve already shown from the past that some of these unaccompanied minors end up in MS-13,” Paxton announced. He explained that Houston is a hub for the transnational gang, while the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area further has a big difficulty.
“If we have a problem there, we definitely have a problem in the schools as well. Unfortunately, it is creating a problem for just regular kids having to be around these gang members.”
Paxton explained that MS-13 is remembered for “murders, extortion, racketeering, assaults, robberies, drug trafficking, human trafficking—that’s not an exhaustive list, but it covers some of it.”
The gang’s motto is “kill, rape, control,” and it has strong bonds with El Salvador.
Gang members are needed to commit violence to increase in the ranks, as illustrated in a recent Houston case where seven men were charged with a 2018 murder.
“The victim was allegedly beaten to death with machetes in order for the defendants to further their positions in the enterprise,” the Justice Department statement announced on April 9.
Five of the seven were in the United States illegally, one was legally in the nation, and the final one was in custody in El Salvador.
An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operation in New York in 2018 ended in the seizure of 99 confirmed MS-13 gang members who had enrolled the country as unaccompanied minors. Sixty-four of the 99 had obtained special immigrant juvenile status, which allows for a pathway to citizenship.
The Department of Justice reported in 2020 that 74 percent of the 749 MS-13 gang members it has prosecuted since 2016 had enrolled in the United States illegally.
In 2017, ICE arrested 214 MS-13 gang members throughout an operation, 30 percent of whom originally entered the United States as unaccompanied alien children (UACs).
A Nassau County, New York, operation in 2017 rounded up 41 alleged MS-13 gang members, 19 of whom entered as unaccompanied minors. The indictment claimed the individuals were to blame for 32 violent acts in Nassau County including eight attempted murders and other shootings, slashings, and stabbings, according to Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas.