Its name has become a sinister shorthand for the fear of violence seeping across America’s borders. MS-13, or “Mara Salvatrucha,” is one of the largest gangs in the world, a menace in several countries and a frequent target of President Trump’s rhetoric. Its violent grip in Central America is one of the forces driving thousands of migrants to flee for the U.S. — which, ironically, is where the gang got its start.
The Trump administration refers to MS-13 as “violent animals,” and Mr. Trump often invokes MS-13’s gruesome acts of violence to justify hardline policies against immigration.
“This is a crisis. You have human trafficking, you have drugs, you have criminals coming in, you have gangs, MS-13. We’re taking them out by the thousands and bringing ’em back,” the president said last week.
In recent months, migrants from the Northern Triangle — Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador — have headed to the U.S.’s southern border in much-publicized caravans to flee rampant violence and poverty. In 2017, there were close to 4,000 homicides in El Salvador, a nation of about 6 million people. Though that’s down from over 6,600 killings in 2015, El Salvador still has one of the highest murder rates in the world.