Today, the Department of Justice released “Full Scale Response: A Report on the Department’s Efforts to Combat MS-13 from 2016-2020.” This report describes the Department’s work to dismantle La Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) in the United States and abroad. The data show that since 2016, the Department has prosecuted approximately 749 MS-13 gang members. So far, more than 500 of these MS-13 gang members have been convicted, including 37 who received life sentences. Department prosecutors are using more than 20 federal criminal statutes to prosecute MS-13 members, including, for the first time, filing terrorism charges against MS-13’s leadership. The data also show that for decades MS-13 has exploited weaknesses in border enforcement policies, as approximately 74 percent of the defendants prosecuted were unlawfully present in the United States. The report also describes the Department’s efforts to combat MS-13 internationally through increased partnerships with law enforcement in Mexico and Central America. Through international cooperation, hundreds of MS-13 members have been arrested abroad and more than 50 MS-13 members have been extradited to the United States.
Combating MS-13 has been a top priority for the Department of Justice. On February 9, 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13773, directing the whole-of-government to develop and execute a comprehensive approach to dismantle Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) such as MS-13 and restore safety for the American people. In doing so, the President recognized that these organizations put the safety of the American people at risk through widespread illegal conduct, including acts of violence and abuse that exhibit a wanton disregard for human life. The President directed the Department to support and improve the coordination of federal agencies’ efforts to identify, interdict, investigate, prosecute, and dismantle TCOs and subsidiary organizations within and beyond the United States. Pursuant to the President’s Executive Order, on October 15, 2018, Attorney General Sessions created the Transnational Organized Crime Task Force to focus on the disruption and dismantlement of TCOs such as MS-13.
On August 16, 2019, Attorney General Barr created Joint Task Force Vulcan (JTFV) to coordinate and lead the efforts of the Department and U.S. law enforcement agencies against MS-13 in order to eradicate the group. JTFV has successfully increased coordination and collaboration with international law enforcement partners, including El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala; prioritized prosecutions against MS-13 cliques and leaders; and coordinated significant MS-13 indictments in U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country.
“In 2017, the President directed the Department of Justice to go to war against MS-13, and we did just that,” said Attorney General Barr. “In coordination with our partners at the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department’s law enforcement components have successfully investigated, charged, and arrested command and control elements of MS-13 responsible for particularly heinous crimes against our communities. Joint Task Force Vulcan’s operations have significantly degraded MS-13 capabilities. While there is still work to be done, the Department of Justice remains steadfastly committed to protecting Americans from MS-13, and we will not rest until we have successfully eradicated this violent gang.”
Federal prosecutors from the Department’s National Security Division, the Criminal Division, and 10 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices have been assigned full-time to JTFV. The U.S. Attorneys’ Offices represented include: the Eastern District of New York, the Eastern District of Virginia, the District of Nevada, the Southern District of California, the District of Massachusetts, the Northern District of Ohio, the District of New Jersey, the Eastern District of Texas, the District of Utah, and the District of Columbia. In addition, the Department’s law enforcement agencies are involved in the effort, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), and the Bureau of Prisons. DHS’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) has also played a critical role in JTFV.
Information Regarding the Immigration Status of MS-13 Defendants
The vast majority of the MS-13 members that the Department has prosecuted from 2016 through 2020 were unlawfully present in the United States. The approximate immigration status makeup of the defendants is as follows:
- 74 percent were unlawfully present in the United States;
- 15 percent had an immigration status that could not be determined;
- 8 percent were U.S. Citizens;
- 3 percent had lawful status in the United States.
Information Regarding the Department’s International Efforts to Combat MS-13
The Department and its federal law enforcement partners have assisted law enforcement in Central America and Mexico through training, operational support, the deployment of specialized technology, and intelligence sharing. As part of these efforts, FBI special agents and analytical staff are embedded with their international law enforcement partners through Transnational Anti-Gang Units (TAG) where they jointly investigate MS-13 and other gangs found in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. HSI has specially trained Central American law enforcement officers to target MS-13 in Central America through its Transnational Criminal Investigative Units (TCIUs) program. TAGs and TCIUs have arrested hundreds of MS-13 members in Central America.
Federal law enforcement agencies have also provided technical support and intelligence to law enforcement in Central America. After MS-13 and other gangs targeted Salvadoran law enforcement with a series of bombings, ATF assisted Salvadoran authorities in its investigation into the bombings. The USMS has regularly shared intelligence with their international counterparts to locate MS-13 fugitives in the United States and El Salvador. The increased cooperation has led to the arrest of MS-13 fugitives in Central America and the United States. More than 50 MS-13 members have been extradited to the United States as a result of these partnerships.
DHS has deployed technology to Mexico and Central America to identify and track dangerous MS-13 members in order to stop them before they enter the United States. DHS deployed the Biometric Identification Transnational Migration Alert Program (BITMAP) in Central America. The BITMAP system stores biometric data for individuals enrolled in the system and shares it with law enforcement and immigration authorities in Central America and the United States. By enrolling MS-13 gang members into BITMAP, HSI is able to ensure that these dangerous individuals are identified if they attempt to enter the United States. Most MS-13 members who are illegally present in the United States enter via Mexico. Working with its partners in Mexico, DHS deployed its DHS Biometric Encounter Analysis and Screening Team to Migration Centers in Mexico so that MS-13 members can be detected before they reach the United States.