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Spotlight: New York killings underscore U.S. problem with violent gangs
Last Updated: 2017-07-25 11:29 | Xinhua
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A recent suspected gang murder case in New York has the challenges posed by illegal immigrants in the United States under spotlight, and raised the question of what the White House will do about it.

Authorities continue to make arrests over the brutal deaths of four men in Long Island, New York, with more than 15 suspects taken into custody last week - five of them juveniles.

The four men were allegedly lured into a wooded area by two teenage girls, where members of the violent Hispanic gang MS-13 ambushed them with clubs, machetes and knives.

Those killings came on the heels of another high-profile MS-13 hit in Long Island a few months ago. In that case, two teenage girls were killed after one of them had an argument on social media with gang members who attended the same high school. After school, MS-13 members beat to death the girl and her friend.

The slayings underscore a problem with the increasingly violent MS-13 gang, whose sheer brutality has caused it to grab headlines nationwide. Members of the gang group are often illegal immigrants, mostly from El Salvador.

The problem is tied to the hot-button issue of illegal immigration. There are around 11 million illegal migrants living in the United States.

U.S. President Donald Trump has vowed to fix the nation's broken immigration system, which many experts say has allowed scores of MS-13 members to enter the United States unhindered.


There are around 10,000 MS-13 members in the United States, and nearly 2,800 members of all gangs, including MS-13, have been deported in 2017, according to the latest data compiled by

Given the current state of the U.S. immigration system, there is no guarantee that gang members won't return to the United States illegally.

However, some involved in the issue said changes have taken place amid a declining number of illegal entries

The "handcuffs" of border patrol and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were taken down, said Marguerite Telford, director of communications for Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, told Xinhua.

"And just by that word of mouth going back to Central America and Mexico ... that has really been a deterrent," she said.

Telford also noted that when Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the administration has zero tolerance for gang violence, "it went a long way to help stop the problem."


Telford said her organization has been tracking MS-13 since the 1980s.

The group has strongholds in northern Virginia, the Washington D.C. area and New York, and is active in 48 states.

In order to enter the gang, members often have to perform some type of violent acts, such as committing a murder, Telford said.

U.S. authorities had the gang on the run in the early 2000s, but critics said former U.S. president Barack Obama squandered those victories during his tenure.

Obama changed the rules of entry and allowed a flood of unaccompanied minors from Latin America to enter the United States through the Mexican border, which resulted in a major increase in gang numbers, critics said.

Telford said during Obama's time in office, illegal immigrants who claimed they were under age 16 were automatically allowed entry into the United States.

No identification was required of such individuals, who became known under U.S. law as Unaccompanied Alien Children, or UACs. Telford said many simply lied about their age in order to gain entry.

Such individuals were given a piece of paper with a court date on it, and required to attend a court hearing at some point in the future, to determine whether they could remain in the United States. But few actually showed up for their hearings. Instead, they simply melted into the millions of illegal migrants in the United States.

The UAC rule was intended initially to help young children who came over the border without their parents.

But the majority of UACs were not small children, but rather 14-15-year-old teenagers, some belonging to gangs - such as MS-13 - and some having already committed crimes, even murders, on behalf of the gang, Telford said.

Between 2005 and 2016, U.S. authorities arrested over 7,000 MS-13 gang members, Telford said.

Previously, the policy of detainment served as a deterrent to those entering illegally, but during the Obama years, the lenient approach toward UACs prompted a surge in young illegal immigrants in the United States, Telford said.

The numbers of Central American UACs doubled in 2012, doubled again in 2013, and doubled again in 2014, Telford said.

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