President Donald Trump recently referred to MS-13 members as “animals,” but animals do not beat people to death with baseball bats. They do not cut off their heads with machetes. They do not rip out hearts. They do not torture a 15-year-old girl by slicing off her tattoo before stabbing her to death. So maybe Trump was wrong to refer to these people as animals. Let’s just call them inhuman humans.
The president has also tweeted that this nationwide immigrant gang with ties to El Salvador is a major issue. Along with sexual trafficking and other malign hobbies, it has in fact murdered at least 207 people since 2012, probably many more. Some act as if that’s no big deal, maybe because they come from a better off, better protected socio-economic group than the victims who are mostly poor, often struggling immigrants in Central American neighborhoods.
Still, it is said, that number is not so big relative to all the other killings going on in the country. Does that mean school shootings are also insignificant? The number murdered on school property since 2012 is reported to be less, 138, and, right now, we have this horror in Texas that we know is significant. We know it says something dreadful about what’s going on in America. We know each and every one of those lost lives is a treasure never to be seen again. We also know each death is a powerful pain that will be felt for decades in the hearts of family and friends.
More gun laws are thought to be a crucial answer for the school shootings, but even if that is dubiously the case, such new laws certainly won’t do much good in taming the 10,000 members of MS-13. They are not without some guns but seem to derive particular pleasure from hacking people to death with machetes.
Dealing with MS-13 is a complicated matter made more complicated by sanctuary cities. As the Center for Immigration Studies reports, we have government statistics showing that, during a nine-month period last year, local cops released 142 gang members that federal agents wanted to deport, some of them from MS-13. Abetting crime is not what our public servants ought to do.
On top of that, there are also confused laws letting potentially dangerous asylum seekers hang around even when they came in the country illegally. Careful, humane reform is needed, and, while a big step in the right direction, it is not enough that federal agents under the Trump administration have rounded up a thousand or more suspected MS-13 ruffians. Those who are citizens can face criminal charges, but moving on deportation can be a years-long trudge through an unbelievably undermanned judicial setup often enabling disappearance.
Trump has been out lately meeting with community leaders and brought up this subject to get a better idea of where to go, but it’s not easy when you read how these gangsters intimidate possible informants, too easily recruit boys just 13 or 14 years old and keep smuggling in more illegal immigrants. Because some immigrants think Trump is merely trying to blacken the names of all of them with his talk of “animals,” their aspirations fall short of cooperation. Given the threats, it isn’t easy, but they do need to do their communal best on the side of justice for their own sake and for others.
Something that has worked terrifically, it’s reported, is when local and federal law enforcement agents form tight teams. Better means of keeping illegal immigrants at bay would do some good, as would switching our legal immigration system from one based on nepotism to one based on merit. Ultimately, we will defeat this enemy within this tattoo-ladened gang that was formed in the 1980s in Los Angeles, has gone international and communicates with its own secret code of hand signals. Let’s make it fall, all hands shuddering.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.