L.A.’s Transnational Gangs
Los Angeles street gangs aren’t just a local problem anymore; they have metastasized into a national and global menace. That was the message a year ago from Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton, who held a conference for federal and local law enforcement officials to discuss a national strategy to fight street gangs.
A year later, there are welcome signs of progress. This month, raids in seven U.S. cities netted 103 members of Mara Salvatrucha, an L.A. gang born in the 1980s among Salvadoran immigrants that has spread through Central America and the United States. Also known as MS-13, it is thought to be the fastest-growing, most violent gang in the country, responsible for human and drug smuggling, extortion and murder. Last fall, the FBI formed a new national task force to combat it, much as the agency once attacked the Mafia.
Last December, Honduran gangs machine-gunned a bus full of passengers, killing 28 people. Honduran President Ricardo Maduro called it a warning from the gangs to back off in his aggressive “zero tolerance” campaign against them. Authorities in El Salvador and Guatemala are also implementing tough laws to stop the gangs. The suspected mastermind of the attack in Honduras, who had a lengthy criminal record in California, had been deported back to his country four times.
Since 1996, as a result of U.S. policy to deport convicted criminals back to their countries of origin after they have served time in U.S. jails, the gangs have become a powerful force in Central America. With their leaders now free to come and go, gangs like MS-13 are growing larger and more sophisticated, with an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 active members. Law enforcement agencies there are overwhelmed by the problem, and Washington needs to broaden its dialogue, and assistance programs, concerning this threat.
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