Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with leaders from across federal law enforcement Tuesday to address transnational organized crime.
“Let me state this clearly. Under President Trump, the Justice Department has ZERO tolerance for gang violence,” Sessions told the press in a prepared statement before the meeting of the Attorney General’s Organized Crime Council. The group, which has met since 1970, is made up of representatives from the many federal agencies and inter-agency task forces that address organized crime in America.
Sessions touted President Donald Trump’s February executive order on criminal gangs as leading the way for efforts to dismantle the international criminal organizations responsible for a large amount of the violence, drug trafficking, and human exploitation in this country. “Today, we’ll be proposing concrete ideas to follow through on President Trump’s directive,” he said.
The Attorney General singled out the particularly brutal gang Mara Salvatrucha, commonly known as “MS-13” for his attention:
MS-13 has become a symbol of this plague that has spread across our country and into our communities. There are over 30,000 members abroad with their headquarters in the El Salvadoran prison system. According to the National Gang Intelligence Center, MS-13 now has more than 10,000 members in at least 40 states in this country—up significantly from just a few years ago.
MS-13 originated among Salvadorans in Los Angeles, California, many of whom fled to this country in the 1980s to escape El Salvador’s horrific civil war and the right-wing death squads operating throughout Central America at the time. Today, MS-13 is made up of tens of thousands of members, primarily Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans and their descendants in the United States. Operating without any regard for national borders, the gang has brought the kind of atrocities once confined to Central America’s political conflicts with it wherever it has spread.
Recently, MS-13 has been linked to a string gruesome murders across the United States. Last Wednesday, the bodies of four men and boys aged 16-20 were found in suburban Long Island, New York. The victims were tortured and mutilated to the point their tattoos had to used to identify them. Two additional bodies were discovered last in Fairfax, Virginia, only a few dozen miles from the Capital Dome, too badly disfigured to be identified. Details in each case led authorities to suspect the involvement of MS-13, whose members have faced justice for countless similarly brutal crimes.
MS-13 operates under the motto “kill, rape, control,” according to a DOJ fact sheet on the group. Justice officials believe that when MS-13 crews in the United States are not aggressive or ruthless enough, their leaders in El Salvador’s prisons warn them to keep to “La Programma” – The Program – understood to mean stepping up the violence and brutality in their allotted territory to increase the gang’s power and territory.
Sessions compared the group to the Mafia and the Colombian cartels, two once imposing criminal groups brought low by federal law enforcement in the past.
Attorney General Sessions linked the transnational gang problem to immigration issues:
Because of an open border and years of lax immigration enforcement, MS-13 has been sending both recruiters and members to regenerate gangs that previously had been decimated, and smuggling members across the border as unaccompanied minors.
Sessions has made enforcement of our immigration laws a centerpiece of his tenure at Justice. He has stated that gang members will be among those illegal aliens who will be a top priority for deportation. Many of MS-13 and other gangs’ members are illegals, and efforts are being stepped up to remove them from the country. On Saturday, the Attorney General confirmed to Fox News’s Judge Jeanine Pirro that gang affiliation alone will be enough to qualify illegal aliens for priority removal.
Sessions specifically hit upon so-called “sanctuary cities” for the role they play, according to him, in providing harbor to members of MS-13 and other gangs. “Sanctuary cities are aiding these cartels to refill their ranks and putting innocent life – including the lives of countless law-abiding immigrants – in danger,” he said. Sessions’ DOJ is looking into methods to compel these jurisdictions to comply with federal immigration laws and cooperate with federal authorities. Some sanctuary city leaders, however, are resisting these efforts.
Answering questions from the press after his address, Sessions acknowledged the need to move quickly to confirm his new Justice Department team, including all 94 United States Attorneys. The Attorney General has previously expressed dismay at the slow pace of confirmations in the new administration. Tuesday he said he hoped to have all these important positions filled with competent prosecutors.