Since the mid 1990s, US immigration policy has dramatically boosted the proliferation of gangs throughout Latin America and Asia by deporting tens of thousands of immigrants with criminal records back to their home countries each year, including a growing number of gang members. In 1996, around 38,000 immigrants were deported after committing a crime; by 2003, the number had jumped to almost 80,000. Often, gang members have spent nearly their entire lives in the United States. But once they run afoul of the law, their immigrant status leaves them vulnerable to deportation.
The countries that receive the flood of deportees are usually ill-equipped to deal with so many returning gang members. Although estimates vary, experts believe that there are now nearly 100,000 gang members spread across Central America and Mexico. In 2003, the United States deported more than 2,100 immigrants with criminal records to the Dominican Republic. The same year, nearly 2,000 were deported to El Salvador. The US government does not keep track of how many of these criminal deportees are gang members, but many Latin American states see a connection and say gangs are now one of their biggest threats to national security. In 2003, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama and Mexico agreed to work together to find new ways to beat the challenges gangs pose.
It's not as though many gang members wish to remain tin the countries of their birth. With little or no connection to their new homes, deported gang members typically face a simple choice: either find a way to return to the United States or seek protection from local gang members. In the case of MS-13, the US government has deported hundreds of members, many of whom continue to illegally migrate back and forth, often carrying goods or people with them. Those that remain in their home countries are almost sure to connect with other deported gang members, and authorities in those countries say they are responsible for a large upswing in crime and violence. In a sense, US immigration policy has amounted to unintentional state-sponsored gang migration. Rather than solving the gang problem, the United States may have only spread it.
Saturday, February 26, 2005
"State-sponsored gang migration"
Andrew V. Papachristos, a Ph.D. student in sociology at the University of Chicago who has worked with gangs for more than 12 years, has an article on the phenomenon of transnational gangs in the March/April 2005 edition of Foreign Policy (not yet online). While mostly focusing on gangs in the U.S., he does have a good take on the nexus between U.S. immigration policy and gang expansion:
Posted by David at 6:57 AM