The Trump administration is prioritizing the prosecution of those who are affiliated with MS-13, an international criminal gang formally known as Mara Salvatrucha. “We are targeting you. We are coming for you,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last month. If the Trump administration is committed to eradicating MS-13 in the U.S., it ought to look no further than the way in which the U.S. immigration system unintentionally allows for the recruitment of unaccompanied minors into gangs.
Upon catching unaccompanied minors at the border, U.S. Border Patrol agents have 72 hours to bring the minor to the Justice Department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). From there, he or she is placed with a sponsor. According to the Washington Times, “That usually leaves the children with no federal supervisions once they are released to sponsors — where they are often prime recruiting targets.”
In a Senate judiciary committee hearing on Wednesday, Republican senator Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the committee, grilled officials from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Justice Department’s ORR.
“No one takes responsibility for these children after they are placed with a sponsor,” Grassley said. “Your agencies repeatedly pass the buck to each other. As a result, children are allowed to disappear. When these children disappear without any supervision, they are vulnerable to join dangerous gangs like MS-13.”
MS-13 is increasingly recruiting unaccompanied minors who are heading to the U.S. According to ORR, 39 of the 138 unaccompanied minors who are being held by the U.S. at secure facilities — nearly 30 percent — are affiliated with MS-13 and other gangs. And just last week, 41 alleged MS-13 gang members were arrested in Nassau County, N.Y. Nineteen of the 41 arrested came to the U.S. as unaccompanied minors.
Nassau County district attorney Madeline Singas said that while recruiting, MS-13 members “surround a vulnerable child, ask him or her which gang they belong to, and while displaying machetes or guns, or other weapons, they demand that they join their gang or else they’ll suffer violence, or their families will.”
Grassley is right — our immigration system’s failure to properly handle these unaccompanied minors is partly to blame for MS-13’s rise in recent years. It’s time that one of the agencies involved steps up to the plate.