How DACA Shields Violent Gang Members

The March 5 deadline to end protections under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is rapidly approaching and Congress still doesn’t have its act together. Democrats claim that failure to act is putting lives on the line by threatening upheaval and deportation to thousands—unless Congress intervenes.

On this point, Democrats are right, but not in the way they think they are. A failure to act on DACA, and illegal immigration more generally, is indeed putting lives on the line. A recent report issued by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) shows just how many.

CIS reviewed more than 500 cases of MS-13 gang members arrested nationwide since 2012. The group’s conclusions reveal startling facts about the danger that illegal alien gang members pose to Americans.

MS-13, based in El Salvador, is notorious for its brutality which includes high volumes of rapes, murders, kidnappings, and drug trafficking. Ironically, the gang’s presence in the United States was formerly on the decline, due in part to the Bush Administration’s efforts to prioritize state and local cooperation in apprehending and prosecuting gang members.

Under the Obama administration, however, these efforts became less of a priority. As a result, gang arrests by ICE fell from around 4,600 in 2012 to about 1,580 in 2014.

Accordingly, MS-13 violence increased. In just the last year, Montgomery County, Maryland, reported a 20 percent rise in MS-13 related incarcerations. Prince William County, Virginia, reported a similar increase of 32 percent, while Fairfax County, next door, reported that its MS-13 inmate population doubled in 2017. Even the left-leaning New Yorker magazine recently published a feature story on the violence facing Long Island residents as a result of MS-13.

All told, there are now MS-13 arrests reported across 22 states. According to the Department of Justice, MS-13 gang members now reside in 40 states and the District of Columbia.

This isn’t a gang engaging in petty crime. MS-13’s motto is “Mata, Viola, Controla,” which means “Kill, Rape, Control.” It’s a way of life they appear to take seriously.

Of the 506 MS-13 arrest cases reviewed by CIS, 207 were for members charged with murder; 100 were accused of conspiracy/racketeering, and dozens more for drug trafficking, sex trafficking, attempted murder, sexual assault, and extortion. Suspects ranged in age from 14 to 57. The average age of their victims? Just 19 years old.

This wave of violence can be directly linked to the failure to enforce the border, as well as to the failure to enforce immigration laws throughout the interior of the country. In one reported case out of Frederick, Maryland, an MS-13 gang member managed to obtain a DACA work permit and, as a result, was employed as a custodian in a middle school. According to CIS, he was “told by gang leaders in El Salvador to take advantage” of America’s “lenient policies . . . to bring in new recruits.”

It’s working. In August, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reported that 2,139 DACA recipients had their deferred action status pulled last year due to criminal activity. A nationwide gang sweep initiated last May netted three confirmed gang members who were also receiving DACA protections.

Moreover, much of the hotbed of MS-13 activity is linked to areas classified as “sanctuary cities”—that is, cities, counties and states that deliberately refuse to enforce U.S. immigration laws on their illegal populations. There are approximately 300 sanctuary jurisdictions in the United States today. Tellingly, 222 of the 506 arrests reviewed by CIS occurred in these sanctuary jurisdictions.

Americans are paying a steep price for our government’s failure to enforce the law, and Congress’ failure to act. In a recent White House roundtable, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) said MS-13 members had committed 17 murders in an 18 month period—representing 38 percent of all homicides in his district. In Montgomery County, Maryland, MS-13 has been linked to nearly a dozen killings in just the last two years.

Failing to enforce the law, in combination with allowing thousands of un-vetted immigrants into the United States, no questions asked, has steep consequences, some of them deadly. Without standards for our immigration system, we unknowingly allow criminals into the country. Worse still, the ease with which they settle into an undisturbed way of life in America serves to incentivize more gang-related illegal immigration.

Ensuring a basic level of safety is a fundamental role of the government. Our immigration system should reflect this by welcoming those who respect our republic and have a desire to contribute to it, instead of intentionally sheltering those who wish to do us harm.

As Congress continues to equivocate over the fate of 700,000 DACA recipients, perhaps lawmakers should give some thought to the millions of American citizens who daily suffer the consequences of their failure to prioritize our immigration system around the laws they took an oath to uphold.

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About Rachel Bovard

Rachel Bovard is senior director of policy at the Conservative Partnership Institute and Senior Advisor to the Internet Accountability Project. Beginning in 2006, she served in both the House and Senate in various roles including as legislative director for Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and policy director for the Senate Steering Committee under the successive chairmanships of Senator Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), where she advised Committee members on strategy related to floor procedure and policy matters. In the House, she worked as senior legislative assistant to Congressman Donald Manzullo (R-Il.), and Congressman Ted Poe (R-Texas). She is the former director of policy services for the Heritage Foundation. Follow her on Twitter at @RachelBovard.