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Atty. Gen. Sessions says lax immigration enforcement is enabling gangs like MS-13

Two MS-13 gang members, formerly of El Salvador, Miguel Alvarez-Flores, left, and Diego Hernandez-Rivera, appeared in court last month in Houston. (Steve Gonzales / Associated Press)
Two MS-13 gang members, formerly of El Salvador, Miguel Alvarez-Flores, left, and Diego Hernandez-Rivera, appeared in court last month in Houston. (Steve Gonzales / Associated Press)

Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions vowed a tougher approach to violent drug cartels Tuesday, calling them “a plague that has spread across our country” because of lax immigration enforcement.

He promised a crackdown hours after President Trump criticized his predecessor for being “weak” on illegal immigration and blamed him, without evidence, for allowing the violent Mara Salvatrucha gang, also known as MS-13, to form in America.

“The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin. allowed bad MS 13 gangs to form in cities across U.S. We are removing them fast!” the president wrote on Twitter at about 5:40 a.m.

Mara Salvatrucha was started in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s by Salvadoran immigrants fleeing the country's civil war. 

In the latest incident, police said last week that they believe MS-13 members on Long Island, N.Y., had carried out a quadruple homicide against a rival gang.

In prepared remarks for a meeting of organized crime task forces at the Justice Department, Sessions argued that MS-13 has expanded because of a porous Southwest border and “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with immigration agents.

“Because of an open border and years of lax immigration enforcement, MS-13 has been sending both recruiters and members to regenerate gangs that previously had been decimated, and smuggling members across the border as unaccompanied minors,” Sessions said. 

He added that “sanctuary cities dangerously undermine" attempts to battle the group.

“Harboring criminal aliens only helps violent gangs like MS-13,” Sessions said.

As the nation's top law enforcement officer, Sessions has focused on curbing both legal and illegal immigration, a hallmark of his nearly four terms in the Senate. 

Last week, in a speech in Arizona, Sessions called on federal prosecutors to be more aggressive about filing felony charges against people who cross the border illegally.

The FBI created a task force to investigate MS-13 in 2004, and four years later — before Obama was elected — said the violent gang had established a presence in at least 42 states.

“They are not content to simply ruin the lives of adults — MS-13 recruits in our high schools, our middle schools and even our elementary schools,” Sessions said.

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