Thesis: Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street Gangs: Threat to National Security?

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¶ … predominantly Latino Gangs, Mara Salvatrucha (aka MS-13), and the 18th Street Gang operating on the streets of communities across America. This study is significant because it will provide a snapshot in time concerning how these violent gangs operate in this country in ways that can inform and alert both civilian society and government agencies concerning optimal responses to the problem created by these gangs. Through a quantitative and qualitative analysis of documentary evidence and governmental statistics about the Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street Gang, this study developed several conclusive findings on the negative effects of these groups in the United States. The Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street Gang are becoming transnational criminal organizations given the fact that they originated in Central America and Mexico and have since expanded their operations abroad. Despite efforts by national and international law enforcement to curtail these gangs' criminal behaviors, they maintain their ties with their gang associates in these countries. Moreover, gang members engage in criminal activities that were highly organized. They also moved through networks that continued to gain sophistication. Drug trafficking, gun running, violence, robbery, extortion are some of the heinous crimes committed by these groups. These gangs disturb peace and order in the community, destroy personal properties and endanger the lives of citizens. These two gangs may establish an organized criminal enterprise capable of coordinating illegal activities across national borders. Nonetheless, with complete disregard to the laws of this land including immigration laws, these groups are considered a threat to the security of the country, but this level is considered comparable to any highly organized street gang that supports its activities with criminal enterprises. In sum, the dangers posed by Mara Salvatrucha and the 18th Street as well as other comparable criminal organizations should not be underestimated.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction

Statement of the Problem

Purpose of Study

Research Questions

Importance of Study

Chapter 2: Review of Related Literature

Chapter 3: Methodology

Description of the Study Approach

Data-gathering Method and Database of Study

Chapter 4: Data Analysis

Chapter 5: Discussion

Chapter 6: Summary, Conclusions and Recommendations

ARE the MARA SALVATRUCHA and 18TH STREET GANG a THREAT to U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY?

The maras present a serious threat to the democracies, economies, and security of Latin America. They overwhelm the governments, the police, and the legal systems with their sheer audacity, violence, and numbers. -- Steven C. Boraz and Thomas C. Bruneau, 2006

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION

Statement of the Problem

The epigraph above is reflective of the widely held views of many law enforcement authorities in the United States and abroad that the Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street Gangs represent a clear and present threat to the NATIONAL SECURITY of many countries. The transnational gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), the 18th Street Gang and other drug trafficking organizations represent a challenge to a number of Central and Latin American governments (Reveron, 2010). In fact, in many countries in the world, transnational actors wage "wars of globalization," defined as "the illegal trafficking of drugs, small arms, and humans, violations of intellectual property, and money laundering" (Reveron, 2010, p. 18). Among transnational criminal activities, illegal drug production and trafficking pose a full spectrum of threats to state sovereignty and human security (Reveron, 2010; Franco, 2008). With tens (some say hundreds) of thousands of members worldwide, MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang are among the most threatening of these transnational criminal organizations. In fact, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported in 2008 that MS-13 was "America's most dangerous gang" and was active "in at least 42 states ... And ha[d] about 6,000 to 10,000 members nationwide" (quoted in Lineberger & Padgett, 2011, p. 13). At present, the FBI estimates that there are more than 60,000 MS-13 members worldwide (Lineberger & Padgett, 2011). The Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street Gang pose a growing threat not only to society, but also to the national security of the United States of America. With their growing level of organization, sophistication, and activities in our communities, these gangs threaten to undermine the fabric of society by their actions that represent the menace to the social order.

The MS-13 Gang has about 3,500 members in Los Angeles County; however, the 18th Street Gang also numbers around 10,000 in this county alone (Vasquez & Marquardt, 2003). According to Vasques and Marquardt, "The Eighteenth Street Gang is considered the largest gang in Los Angeles, with more than ten thousand members. In contrast to the MS, the Eighteenth has a reputation for being panethnic. It has moved from its Chicano origins in the Pico Union District of Los Angeles and is now dominated by Salvadorans" (p. 126).

Membership in both the 18th Street Gang as well as MS-13 has swollen in recent years, as well as in their organizational sophistication in recent years and the bloodthirsty nature of their criminal activities have intimidated and even overwhelmed the security forces of many of the emerging democracies in Central America (Boraz & Bruneau, 2006). According to Boraz and Bruneau, "Altogether, these maras represent a significant threat to the security of the countries in the region. Numerous national, binational, multinational, regional, and hemispheric conferences have sought to address the problem" (p. 37). It is clear that the Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street are two dangerous gangs that are highly organized and tend to have a higher level of criminal involvement than any other gangs established in the United States. They will change the way they operate and deviate from the norm, depending on strategies implemented by the police. They adapt to all the police methods and tactics that have been use against them. Furthermore, their increased number of connections beyond the borders of the United States is very alarming. Clearly, these gangs pose a growing national security threat as they increase in number and resources. Understanding these social actors is crucial to instituting public policies and building social movements that can both reduce violence and erode the deep-seated inequalities that all too often are reinforced by present economic, social, and military policies (Hagedorn, 2005). The national responses to these growing threats to security have differed, but all have been based on toughening existing laws or enacting new legislation that carries stiffer penalties for gang-related activities. For instance, Mcfarland (2008) reports that, "Repressive legislation and police policies have been used. Examples are the proliferation of gang databases in police departments and a 1997 court order that placed a curfew on [members] of the Eighteenth Street Gang in Los Angeles and made it illegal for more than two identified gang members to congregate" (p. 122).

Because unilateral, bilateral and multinational initiatives have largely failed to address the problem, it is apparent that alternative approaches must be considered, an issue that relates to the purpose of this study which is set forth below.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was three-fold as follows:

1. To deliver a critical analysis of the relevant quantitative data concerning gang membership, incarceration and deportation levels for MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang.

2. To provide a qualitative review of the relevant peer-reviewed and scholarly literature concerning transnational gangs such as MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang.

3. To provide a series of recommendations based on the findings that emerged from the foregoing quantitative and qualitative analysis.

Research Questions

This study was guided by the following research question: "Do the Mara Salvatrucha and 18th Street Gang represent a threat to U.S. national security?"

Significance of the Study

The study of gangs is significant because of the unprecedented globalization where states are under the pressure of neoliberal policies, strengthening of cultural resistance identities including fundamentalist religion, nationalism, hip-hop culture, marginalization of many sectors of society. In addition study the institutionalization of gang to the point that they challenge the authority of law and the state.

This study hypothesized a significant contribution to the following:

Society

The society is the sector most affected by the presence of these gangs. They also play an important role in the maintenance of peace and order in their community. In order for them to address the problem caused by these gangs, it is necessary for them to identify members and to determine the extent of danger they pose to their community. They need to understand that these gang members do not move in simple street crimes, but they are more organized and can endanger not only their tranquility; however, their lives as well.

Police Officers

This study provides an overview to police officers on the extent of presence of these gangs in the community. It will help them become aware of the movements and activities of these groups. Police can prosecute criminals based on evidence gathered after the crime and at the same time they can warn citizens of the pending activities of these gangs. This study will open the eyes of the police officers about the need to perform diligently and to adapt their tactics to the ever evolving manner of operations of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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