Search Penny Hill Press

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The MS-13 and 18th Street Gangs: Emerging Transnational Gang Threats?

Celinda Franco
Specialist in Crime Policy

Two predominantly Latino gangs, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the 18th Street gang (M-18), have raised concern among policy makers for a number of reasons, including (1) membership in these gangs has spread from the Los Angeles area to other communities across the United States; (2) these gangs are considered "transnational," primarily because MS-13 and M-18 cliques are being established in Central America and Mexico; (3) there are reports suggesting that these gangs are engaged in criminal enterprises normally associated with better organized and more sophisticated crime syndicates; and (4) MS-13 and M-18 gang members may be involved in smuggling operations and, by extension, could potentially use their skills and criminal networks to smuggle terrorists into the United States. To date, however, no evidence exists establishing a link between MS-13 and M-18 members and terrorists. 

Nevertheless, some observers maintain that these two gangs may develop the capacity to become organized criminal enterprises capable of coordinating illegal activities across national borders. Yet, others find them to be no more criminally organized or sophisticated than other street gangs. At issue for Congress is whether the MS-13 and M-18 gangs constitute an emerging transnational criminal threat. 

The federal response to the MS-13 and M-18 gang problem has largely involved the enforcement of criminal and immigration laws, including the deportation of alien gang members. More recently, federal efforts have focused on prosecuting gang members under the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute. Deported alien gang members have established MS-13 and M-18 gang cliques in their home countries, and some experts suggest that U.S. deportation policies have effectively transported U.S.-styled gang culture to parts of Central America and Mexico. Moreover, evidence shows that deported alien MS-13 and M-18 gang members have established a "revolving door" migratory pattern of repeat illegal reentry into the United States, raising concerns that these "migratory" alien gang members may become involved in narco-trafficking, smuggling, and other criminal activities along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

This report will be updated periodically. 

Date of Report: January 22, 2010
Number of Pages: 20
Order Number: RL34233
Price: $29.95

Document available electronically as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail or call us at 301-253-0881.