Officials in northern Virginia have warned of growing cases of Central American gang members terrorizing communities with Central Americans who emigrated fleeing violence in their home countries.
Five federal and local officials explained to the Washington Examiner how these gang criminals from groups like MS-13 tend to focus their criminal activity on communities from their own countries, such as El Salvador.
“We know that these gangs … victimize their own communities. We know that sometimes in these immigrant communities, they may not report all the crimes to police,” explained Francisco Klockner, a gang prevention coordinator with the Fairfax County juvenile and domestic relations district court, according to the Washington Examiner.
Klockner lamented that people in these immigrant communities, in many cases, flee their home countries trying to escape these gangs, only to meet them again in the United States.
Klockner is a member of the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force, an agency created in 2003 to monitor gang activity in 15 cities and counties in the region.
According to data from the American Immgration Council, 12% of Virginia’s population is immigrant and some 300,000 of them are illegal aliens or are in the country illegally.
Salvadorans constitute 10% of the immigrant population and therefore the largest minority among that community.
Jay Lanham, executive director of the task force, said MS-13 “is by far the largest gang in northern Virginia,” he added, “Due to the transient nature of gangs and that many are here illegally, it is impossible to give accurate numbers.”
The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 4,341 gang members in fiscal year 2019, 10% of whom were MS-13.
The main MS-13 crimes are trafficking in cocaine or marijuana.
“They stake out in cantinas and deal out of there, get free drinks, take some of its profits,” a fourth person and member of the task force told the Washington Examiner.
“They may run an area where they sell narcotics and provide protection for the neighborhood,” he added.
Now, however, gangs are expanding their criminal activities beyond drug and weapons trafficking, and their compatriots are the most likely victims, experts say.
“As they’ve come along, they’ve evolved to getting into more criminal enterprises: narcotics, prostitution, armed robberies … trying to get a little more sophisticated,” the official said in reference to human trafficking and prostitution.
“Gangs tend to prey on their own community,” said Henry Pacheco, gang response team coordinator for Prince William County.
“There are kids that have joined gangs here, Hispanic gangs, and they’ll tell you, ‘I don’t want to do it, but I have to do it. I’m stuck. They know my grandparents back in El Salvador. They know my uncles—aunts. If I don’t do what they say, they’re going to get whacked or something.’ There’s that blackmail part of it, that’s true,” Pacheco added.
The MS-13, also known as the Mara Salvatrucha and whose motto is ‘kill, rape, control’, is the only gang labeled in the United States as a transnational criminal organization.
President Donald Trump has paid special attention to the problem of criminal gangs in the United States since the beginning of his term.
In May 2018 the White House issued a statement titled What You Need to Know about the Violent Animals of MS-13 exposing the shocking acts of gang violence aimed to instill fear, including machete attacks, executions, gang rapes, and human trafficking.
Many of the members of this and other dangerous gangs enter the United States illegally across the border with Mexico, which is why President Trump sees the construction of a wall that prevents these criminals from having free access to the country as indispensable.