President Donald Trump mentioned the MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha) gang several times while talking about immigration during his State of the Union address on Jan. 13.
Trump tried to blame MS-13’s violent crimes in the U.S. on undocumented immigrants, but the president failed to mention that MS-13 actually began in Los Angeles in the 1980s and spread to Central America because of U.S. mass deportation policies.
Daniel Denvir, writer-in-residence at Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project, explained to Democracy Now what Trump got horribly wrong about MS-13:
I mean, political rhetoric around immigration so often functions to obscure the reality and history of immigration—though Trump is a rather extreme case.
And what his obsessive focus on MS-13 does, aside from scapegoating and facilitating the mass criminalization of Latino immigrants in this country, is obscure the origins and reality of gangs like MS-13.
MS-13 was born in Los Angeles amidst the refugees fleeing President Reagan’s dirty wars in El Salvador, and became a transnational gang that ultimately did so much to destabilize El Salvador precisely because of deportation policies pursued by President Trump’s predecessors.
This is a problem that’s American-made through and through. So, to treat it as though it’s some external threat being foisted on Americans, it not only entirely takes out of proportion and exaggerates the criminal threat that MS-13 poses to Americans, it obscures the fact that it’s our foreign policies, our military interventions and our long history—that, unfortunately, well precedes Donald Trump—of mass deportations and criminalization of immigrants, that created MS-13 in the first place…
Mara Salvatrucha was formed in L.A. in the 1980s. Older viewers are probably fully aware, and many younger ones, as well, that in the 1980s President Reagan was backing a right-wing government in El Salvador that was waging a brutal dirty war against leftist revolutionaries in that country, that sent huge numbers of refugees fleeing to the U.S.
He also had similar dirty wars in Guatemala, as well as a Contra war against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. But in the case of Salvadoran refugees fleeing to the U.S., Reagan made a point of denying that they were refugees, because how could his friendly government in El Salvador be sending refugees fleeing from their country if they weren’t committing massive human rights abuses?
Which they were. And so, coming into segregated neighborhoods in the U.S., where, like many poor people of color in this country, they were denied access to good jobs and good schools, people gravitated—young people gravitated towards gangs, gangs that were a thoroughly American phenomenon at the time, not one that they were bringing with them from El Salvador.
And then, in the 1990s, Bill Clinton’s harsh anti-immigrant policy, which he was using as part of his general strategy of triangulation, attempting to placate rising right-wing, anti-immigrant sentiment, to ward off the right and consolidate white support in advance of—to advance his own political ambitions, launched a mass crackdown on so-called criminal aliens.
And those same policies were followed by George W. Bush and also by Barack Obama. And the result was that enormous numbers of people have been deported to Central America, including El Salvador, some of them alleged gang members, many of them not.
But those people being deported back into El Salvador brought Mara Salvatrucha and other gangs to that country and turned what was a homegrown L.A. phenomenon into a transnational criminal empire.
Again, Trump entirely exaggerates the criminal threat that MS-13 poses to the U.S., but those gangs have played a major role in wreaking incredible violence and destabilization in Central America, in El Salvador.
And that violence, that destabilization, along with U.S.-backed mano dura crackdowns in the region, have pushed a new generation of refugees to come to the U.S. And now Trump has the gall to say that it’s this new generation of refugees, young, unaccompanied minors, who are a threat to us as Americans.
I mean, it’s absurd. It’s offensive. And it’s, you know, an insult to history, because U.S. policy has created MS-13 through and through. I think, for Trump, it’s just a convenient way to scapegoat and facilitate the criminalization of ordinary immigrants, which is something that he has been doing since he announced his campaign and said that Mexican immigrants were rapists and criminals.
(Source: Democracy Now)