By Sofia Rojas, 10th Grade
For years, the ongoing increase in gang activity has tormented El Salvador, and these criminal organizations led the government to start the infamous “war on gangs”. What exactly is the war on gangs, and who is responsible for it?
The war on gangs is a criminal crackdown campaign orchestrated by the current Salvadoran president, Nayib Bukele. The “war” intends to confine the constant revilement and violence the country has seen. Nonetheless, in a short period of time, the war became oppressive and scathing to those subjected to arrest. Since March 27, the police have incarcerated more than 49,000 people on gang-related charges. Under a state of emergency, authorities can apprehend people and intrude on their residences without a proper warrant. Accordingly, the large-scale number of detentions has aggravated the overcrowding of Salvadoran prisons, which have a capacity of 18,051 inmates. However, today the system holds more than 38,000 convicts.
Contrary to popular opinion, gangs and the combat on such is not singularly the responsibility of the Salvadoran government. For example, MS-13 is one of the most extensive gangs in Latin America and is used as a political excuse to stop illegal immigration in the United States. Regardless, MS-13 is an American-born gang that has been circulating since the 1980s. After their creation, numerous MS-13 subgroups have settled in cities like Boston, Long Island, and Washington D.C. The U.S. has constantly deported Salvadoran immigrants with the excuse of being “MS-13” related. Nevertheless, the U.S. is deporting refugees escaping gang violence imposed in their home country as well as U.S. citizens.
The deportation of Salvadoran immigrants and MS-13 members ironically led to an increase in the recruitment of possible gang members. Many ex-members fear they are going to be persecuted by their government. Consequently, they decide to rejoin their gang when deported to El Salvador. Jose, a 32-year-old American-born ex-MS-13 member, is faced with the tough decision of rejoining the crew. He is confident that the police or opposing gangs will kill him, making rejoining the MS-13 an attractive option. The U.S. is not only partly responsible for the violence in El Salvador, but its responsibility also relies on helping MS-13 construct a character.
The constant immigrant imprisonment and systematic oppression in the 80s taught many members to resent the American system and become even more violent than they were before. The deportation of many ex-convicts led to the exponential growth of criminal organizations like MS-13. The narrative that the Latino community is dangerous and threatening led many immigrants to join and participate in gangs. While in Los Angeles, the MS-13 registers a maximum of 10,000 members. In Latin America, there are more than 80,000 active MS-13 members—quite an astounding amount. The U.S. engendered a political agenda based on criminalization and hatred among Latino residents. This criminalization constantly undermines the contributions Latinos are making to society. For instance, there are nine times more Latinos in California-based colleges than in prisons or jails.
Blaming gang activity on solely one entity is remarkably misleading and boosts the harmful stereotypes of the Latino community. Although fighting and acknowledging the threat of gangs is of unquestionable significance, it is also indispensable to understand how this battle is affecting other demographics.
- VICE News. (2017, September 22). MS-13’s Active Members Are Laughing At Trump’s Crackdown (HBO) [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_bmFJRcseg
- Rodriguez, G. A. H. D. E. (1996, September 15). The Criminalization of the Latino Identity Makes Fighting Gangs That Harder. Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1996-09-15-op-44051-story.html
- World Insights: U.S. blamed for gang violence in El Salvador. (n.d.). Xinhua. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://english.news.cn/20220505/9c0011934476446abfe2428ce5b76705/c.html
- ProPublica. (2020, March 2). I’ve Been Reporting on MS-13 for a Year. Here Are the 5 Things Trump Gets Most Wrong.https://www.propublica.org/article/ms-13-immigration-facts-what-trump-administration-gets-wrong