WASHINGTON, D.C. — There is a “rather long list” of sanctuary cities across the United States that choose to release incarcerated members of the notoriously violent Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang back into U.S. communities rather than allow immigration agents to prosecute and deport them, testified a federal officer under oath before lawmakers.
“We are not asking the state of local institutions to do anything besides give us access and transfer that individual to our custody at the completion of their criminal process so we [can]…remove them from the country or prosecute them,” declared Matthew Albence, the executive associate director for Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, during a Senate panel hearing.
On Wednesday, June 21, 2017, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing titled, “The MS-13 Problem: Investigating Gang Membership, its Nexus to Illegal Immigration, and Federal Efforts to End the Threat.”
Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) asked the witnesses, which included officials from various law enforcement segments of the federal government, about the role “so-called sanctuary cities” play in the problem.
Albence identified Chicago, New York, and San Francisco as being part of an extensive list of sanctuary cities that ignore federal immigration laws and are a contributing “factor” to the deadly MS-13 problem facing the United States.
“I think there are some major cities in this country where…I can’t even send my officers to go into the [local] jail to interview someone who has been arrested for a gang activity or is a known gang member. And we can’t go in there and identify that person and take an enforcement action against him. Certainly, that’s a problem,” responded the high-ranking agent from ICE, a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
“In many cases, we know who these individuals are. We have biometric identifiers. They’ve been arrested by the Border Patrol [USBP] or been arrested by ICE previously and removed and then re-entered the country unlawfully,” he added, later noting:
We know they’re gang members. We know they’re criminals, but if the county or the city does not allow us to get into the jail to make that final determination, to process that individual for removal and take custody of that person, then they’re released back into the community to re-victimize.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) appeared to defend Chicago’s status as a sanctuary city, blaming President Donald Trump’s administration of allegedly refusing to devote federal funds to help Chicago combat violent crimes.
“I’m proud to represent it [Chicago] and make no mistake if MS-13 members engage in criminal activity, they’re going to be prosecuted. We’re not going to look the other way,” said Sen. Durbin. “When it comes to our state and local law enforcement to be immigration agents, they have the same reaction as a lot of other communities: come on Uncle Sam where’s the money?”
“If you want us to play immigration agents for the United States of America then come forward with the training and resources to make it happen,” he continued.
Since Trump assumed the office of the presidency, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has defiantly defended the city’s status as a sanctuary city to the dismay of the new administration.
Currently, there are “more than” 10,000 MS-13 gang members — accused of extortion, murder, and rape, among other crimes — operating in “at least” 46 states and the nation’s capital, according to the federal government.
“The MS-13 threat is everywhere in the U.S.,” warned Kenneth Blanco, the acting assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice (DOJ), while testifying alongside Albence.
Asked by Sen. Kennedy, “I want to make sure I understand. These are evil people…If they’re arrested and they’re in a local jail, there are some cities in the United States that would prevent you from coming in and talking to them, interviewing them?”
“Correct,” responded ICE’s Albence.
The gang’s motto is known as “kill, rape, control.”
MS-13, primarily based in El Salvador, has taken advantage of the flow of illegal immigrants in the last few years, particularly unaccompanied alien children (UACs), to bolster their ranks within the United States.
UACs refer to illegal aliens under the age of 18.
“Of the approximately 5,000 individuals apprehended by USBP [Border Patrol] with confirmed or suspected gang affiliations since FY 2012, 159 were UACs. Of those 159, approximately 56 UACs were suspected or confirmed to be affiliated with MS-13,” testified Carla Provost, the acting chief of U.S. Border Patrol (USBP), during Wednesday’s hearing. USBP is also a component of DHS.
El Salvador-based MS leaders are intentionally sending UACs to cross the U.S.-Mexico onto American soil and “commit acts of violence,” including murders, Scott Conley, a detective for the Chelsea Police Department in Massachusetts and member of the FBI’s North Shore Gang Task Force, told lawmakers in May.
DHS officials on Wednesday confirmed the validity of documents recently released by a whistleblower showing that former President Barack Obama’s administration released at least 16 UACs affiliated with MS-13 members into U.S. communities.
Federal officials could not say if the practice has continued under President Donald Trump. Illegal immigration, including the flow of UACs, has dropped under the Trump administration.
MS-13, officially labeled by the U.S. government as a transnational criminal organization, primarily operates in the Northern Triangle countries in Central America — El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala.