USCRI: U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants

Gang-Related Asylum Resources

Gang-Related Asylum News Articles

El Salvador Gang Truce Wobbles as Violent Murders Mount
Reuters, July 6, 2013

  • A year-long gang truce supported by the Catholic Church and the Organization of American States has aimed to reduce the 2011 homicide rate of 66 per 100,000 inhabitants.
  • The truce has lowered homicides to an average of five per day from 12 before the agreement, but since May 2013 that number has risen to 16 per day. 

In Their Own Words: What's Next for the Mara Salvatrucha?
In SightCrime, October 11, 2012 

  • The article provides a good summary of, and links to the actual interview in Spanish which was conducted by an El Salvadoran reporter from El Faro with the MS-13.
  • The actual interview contains information that could help with political opinion asylum cases, country conditions, and the background of MS-13's workings.   

Losing Asylum, Then His Life
The New York Times, June 28, 2010

  • Describes how some immigration judges have rejected asylum for individuals fleeing Central American gangs on the grounds that the threats were vague and that the petitioners’ lives did not appear to be truly at risk.

Out of the Underworld - Special Report: Criminal Gangs in the Americas
The Economist, January 7, 2006

  • IADB claims that if the region’s homicide rates were lowered to world average, the overall GDP would increase by 25%.
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) claims 30% of gang members caught in U.S. are arrested; and that the other 70% are deported.

How the Street Gangs Took Central America
Foreign Affairs, May/June 2006

  • "For a decade, the United States has exported its gang problem, sending Central American-born criminals back to their homelands -- without warning local governments."
  • "The result has been an explosive rise of vicious, transnational gangs that now threaten the stability of the region's fragile democracies."
  • "As Washington fiddles, the gangs are growing, spreading north into Mexico and back to the United States." 

Intervention Offers Hope Where Police and Border Crackdowns Fail
Los Angeles Times, December 26, 2005

  • Stephen Johnson urges Congress to combine immigration and police crack-downs with policies promoting social progress to effectively combat gang growth.
  • Story of Ernesto “Satan” Deras, ex-gang member, who works as gang intervention counselor to reduce child involvement in gang activity. 

Gangs Pose a Serious Threat to the Hemisphere, El Salvador Official Tells OAS
Organization of American States, November 30, 2005

Gang Uses Deportation to Its Advantage to Flourish in U.S.
Los Angeles Times, October 30, 2005

  • 500,000 immigrants with criminal records have been deported over the last 12 years.
  • MS-13 has an international network of 50,000 members.
  • Deported gang members not only become experts at crossing the border, they often act as 'coyotes' that guide others in crossing for a fee of about $3,000 per person.  

Gang Violence and Death Squads in Central America
Asheville Global Report, September 6, 2005

  • There are an estimated 100,000 gang members in Central America.
  • Police have the power to incarcerate minors simply because they have tattoos or use certain 'gang-like' hand signals.
  • Public perception is largely indifferent to murders of children, thinking of it as a “possible solution to the problem of public security.”  

Gang Violence and Anti-Gang Death Squads
Inter Press Service News, September 6, 2005

  • 6 people a day are murdered in Honduras; 8 people a day are murdered in El Salvador; 14 people a day are murdered in Guatemala.
  • Guatemala has highest murder rate in Latin America, with 70 homicides per 100,000.  

How the Street Gangs Took Central America
Council on Foreign Relations, June 2005

  • The gang MS-13 attacked random group of bus passengers, killing 28 people in December 2004, in protest of the government’s Iron Fist crackdown against gang activity.
  • Gang members prey on children (45% of Central American population is under the age of 15), particularly on vulnerable street children.
  • Iron Fist policies in El Salvador and Honduras are ineffective in addressing greatest social ills like corruption, drug trade, poverty and overpopulation.
  • Guatemalan Anti-Narcotics Operations Department discovered in November 2002 that 320 of its officials were engaged in illicit bribery.  

Gang Wars - and the War on Gangs
Inter Press Service News Agency, October 4, 2004

  • Death squads, composed largely of off-duty polic officers, have taken it upon themselves to carry out a "social purge" of gangs.
  • The age group of 15 to 19-year-olds, an especially impoverished and vulnerable group, provides most of the maras' new recruits.
  • "Central America is killing its young people because it has condemned them to the stigma of gangs, while it does very little against the poverty, social exclusion, lack of education and destruction of families -- the origins of the violence into which they have fallen."  

Central America’s Gang Crisis: Prison Riots Reflect Widening Violence in Poor Nations
Washington Post, Septemebr 17, 2004

  • Gang members are trapped in a cycle: they join for protection, but are targeted for membership. Membership protects them from rival gangs, who also target them for membership. 
  • Estimated 25,000-50,000 gang members in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala are migrating from urban to rural areas and terrorizing the rural population.

Bringing it all back home
The Economist, May 22, 2004

  • Reported: 36,000 gang members in Honduras; 14,000 members in Guatemala; 10,500 members in El Salvador; 1,100 members in Nicaragua; and 2,600 members in Costa Rica.  

Spreading Gang Violence Alarms Central Americans
Washington Post Foreign Service, December 1, 2003

  • Gang violence is a threat to the developing democracies in Central America.
  • FBI crackdown only exports the U.S. gang problem south to Central America.
  • Governments are responding with harsher laws, sending anyone who is a member of a gang to prison.
  • Human rights activists see this as an infringement of their civil liberties and say it does not solve the problem, while gang members argue that they are not monsters and that they only direct their violence at rival gang members.  

Poor Neighbors Fall Prey to US Gang Culture: Central America counts cost of deadly export from Los Angeles
The Guardian, May 27, 2003

  • The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act allowed the US the "expedited removal" of immigrants who had committed crimes, causing the deportation of thousands of gang members from Los Angeles to Central America.
  • Gangs maintained their structure and took root in their new homes.
  • Mara Salvatrucha is truly an international gang, keeping ties with members across Canada, the US, Mexico, and Central America.
  • Parents of Jose, a member of Los Puenteros, keep him chained inside the house to prevent him from going out on the streets and engaging in gang activity.
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