US, El Salvador Team Up to Target MS-13 Gang Members

By Melanie Arter | July 27, 2017 | 8:55pm EDT
Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Robert Hur (Screenshot of C-SPAN video)

( - The White House announced Thursday that El Salvadorian prosecutors arrested hundreds of MS-13 gang members in El Salvador over the past three days and that an MS-13 gang member behind several high-profile murders in that country, who had fled to the U.S., is now in ICE custody.

Robert Hur, principal associate deputy attorney general at the DOJ, made the announcement during a White House press briefing, also attended by Tom Homan, acting director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"Indeed, earlier today, just hours ago, El Salvadorian prosecutors announced that they have filed charges against, and arrested, over the past 36 hours, hundreds of members of MS-13 in El Salvador. Many of the defendants are members of MS-13 Peajes Locos Salvatruchos clique who are centered in the La Paz department of El Salvador," Hur said.

"Earlier this year, members of this MS-13 clique committed several high-profile murders in El Salvador. The shooter in these murders fled to the United States and is now in ICE custody pending immigration proceedings. This prosecution showcases just how closely we are working with our partners in El Salvador to combat MS-13. Specifically, U.S. law enforcement agents with ICE, who are on the ground in El Salvador, are coordinating with their counterparts here in the U.S. to ensure that the shooter is removed from the United States as quickly as possible to face charges in El Salvador," he said.

"This investigation is being handled by Salvadorian gang prosecutors who are trained and mentored by embedded DOJ prosecutors in El Salvador and Salvadorian police officers who are trained and mentored by the FBI and advisors from the State Department. At the request of Salvadorian prosecutors, the Justice Department has also arranged to have an essential witness to the murders transported to El Salvador for court proceedings," Hur said. 

He explained that MS-13's motto is "Mata, viola, controla," which translates kill, rape, and control.  

"They seek to live up to this motto through truly shocking acts of violence designed to instill fear. Vicious machete attacks, execution-style gunshots, gang-rape, and human trafficking. They use whatever they can get their hands on -- guns, knives, machetes, baseball bats, tire irons, or their fists and feet -- not just to inflict violence. They use violence to shock, to send a message, and to control territory here in the U.S. and in Central America," Hur said.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has answered President Donald Trump's call to target transnational gangs and directed the DOJ to move forward "aggressively" target MS-13.

"Specifically, pursuant to the president's direction and executive orders, the attorney general has directed the department's law enforcement agencies -- ATF, DEA, FBI and the Marshals Service, as well as federal prosecutors across the country -- to prioritize the prosecution of gang members, specifically MS-13," Hur said.

"The Attorney General has issued charging guidance regarding violent crime and criminal immigration enforcement, both of which directly target MS-13 members and their associates. In addition, the Department of Justice has requested funding for 300 more federal prosecutors to focus specifically on violent crime and criminal immigration enforcement," he said.

"We've also prioritized multi-agency and cross-border collaboration in order to attack MS-13 from all angles. The Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security are coordinating our anti-gang efforts to ensure that we bring both criminal and immigration laws to bear in the fight against transnational gangs," Hur added.

The DOJ has also "revitalized the Institutional Hearing Program,which brings immigration judges to Bureau Prisons facilities to adjudicate the immigration status of federal criminal alien inmates while they're incarcerated," resulting in quicker deportations after criminals finish serving sentences in U.S. prisons.

Homan said ICE's Homeland Security Investigation, also known as HSI National Gang Unit, already arrested 3,311 gang members nationwide since the beginning of January. He named two targeted operations: "Project New Dawn, a recent gang surge led by ICE HSI netted 1,378 gang arrests" and "Operation Matador" in New York state in which over 100 gang members and affiliates were arrested since May 9th, "the vast majority of MS-13 members."

Homan is expected to join the president in Suffolk County, N.Y., on Friday to discuss transnational gangs.

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