A 2008 report by the Congressional Research Service lists several major U.S. cities as having some of the heaviest MS-13 presence in the nation. These cities include Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area in Northern Virginia, Los Angeles, Houston, New York City, Baltimore and Nashville.
Since October of last year, more than 57,000 unaccompanied minors have flooded across the Southwest U.S. border illegally, with most of them having come from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, all countries with strong ties to MS-13 and various other Latin American gangs and drug operations.
While they wait to have their cases heard by an immigration judge, most of these children are sent by the Department of Health and Human Services to be housed at temporary shelters, which are primarily run by non-profit groups and religious organizations.
U.S. Border Patrol officers repeatedly have said that many of these illegal alien minors are members of gangs like MS-13, coming into the United States with easily-identified gang tattoos, but they are treated as innocent minors because of regulations in federal law.
Shawn Moran, the vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, told Fox News that members of MS-13 have crossed the Southwest U.S. border as part of the most recent surge, and are now using Red Cross phones at federal detention facilities to coordinate gang activity.
“At the Nogales processing center in Nogales, Arizona, the Red Cross has set up a bank of phones so that unaccompanied juveniles can call family members back home or even in the U.S., and these phones are being utilized by gang members to recruit, to enlist, to pressure people and other juveniles into joining the MS-13 gang,” Moran said. “And the problem is we are unable to isolate these people because they are juveniles. Our hands are tied.”
Albert Spratte, a border patrol agent and union representative representing the Local 3307 in the Rio Grande Valley Sector, said some of them may not even be minors, but Border Patrol has to process them as minors if they claim to be under 18.
“We’ve had older adults posing as teens,” Spratte told CNSNews.com during a trip to the border in June.
“I’ll be standing there like, ‘I know you’re not 17, you look older than that,’” he explained. “But without documentation, I can’t prove that. I have to treat that person as a minor.”
Because of the sheer number of illegal aliens crossing the border daily, many unaccompanied minors are being transferred to shelters in other parts of the country before being placed with sponsors at their final destination. A map published by NumbersUSA.com. identifies the cities where shelters have been set up, which include at least half of the top MS-13 strongholds in the nation.
These cities include parts of Northern Virginia near Washington, D.C., where a 2008 assessment by the Virginia Department of Police classified MS-13 as “the major gang threat to Northern Virginia and a major concern for the Commonwealth as a whole.”
In July, the federal government placed a group of unaccompanied minors in Prince William County in Northern Virginia amid local government and citizen protests, CNSNews.com reported.
That same month, the federal government also transferred a group of minors to Chicago, which is also home to members of MS-13. At the time of the transfer, the city’s Democratic mayor, Rahm Emanuel, praised Chicago as a “city of big hearts” that will “do [its] part to ensure that these children are given access to services and treated fairly and humanely.”
The Baltimore Sun reported religious organizations in Baltimore and other areas in Maryland have been encouraged by Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (D) to open their doors to groups of illegal alien children until they can be placed with sponsors, which is usually a family member already in the United States.
Unaccompanied children have also been sent to Houston, Los Angeles and New York City to be housed and have their cases heard by immigration judges.
While the federal government insists these unaccompanied minors housed in shelters will not be released into the local community, a report by the Office of Refugee Resettlement shows the states where most of the children are being placed with sponsors for the long term. These states include Virginia, Maryland, New York, California and Texas - the same states with the highest MS-13 activity.
Between January 1 and July 7 of this year, Health and Human Services reports it has placed 3,347 children with sponsors in New York and 3,150 children with sponsors in California. Another 2,205 were transferred to Maryland, while 4,280 have been resettled in Texas and 2,234 have landed in Virginia.
Altogether, the 15,216 children placed in these five states represent about half of the roughly 30,000 unaccompanied minors that HHS has placed so far this year.
MS-13 is one of the more recognized and wide-spread Latin American gangs with a reported membership of about 30,000 worldwide. Known for their identifying tattoos and violent mottos like “Mata, roba, viola, controla” (“Kill, steal, rape, control”), members of MS-13 are known for executing their victims with machetes and blunt objects like baseball bats.
A threat assessment by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2008 estimated that at the time MS-13 had as many as 10,000 members in the United States. While the report placed the gang’s overall threat to the United States at “medium,” the level was elevated to “high” in areas where MS-13 had a strong foothold.
The FBI also classified most MS-13 crimes as “exceedingly violent,” and included everything from “drug distribution, murder, rape, prostitution, robbery, home invasions, immigration offenses, kidnapping, carjackings/auto thefts, and vandalism.”
“While most of the violence is directed toward other MS-13 members or rival street gangs, innocent citizens often get caught in the crossfire,” the report stated.