U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared war on gangs Tuesday, vowing to stringently enforce immigration laws to prevent gang members from coming across the Mexican border.
"Because of an open border and years of lax immigration enforcement, MS-13 [a crime gang] has been sending both recruiters and members to regenerate gangs that previously had been decimated, and smuggling members across the border as unaccompanied minors," Sessions told the Organized Crime Council in Washington.
The council offers guidance to the Organized Crime and Gang Section, a group of prosecutors that develop gang-fighting strategies. The section is part of the Criminal Division within the Department of Justice.
MS-13 is short for La Mara Salvatrucha, a gang that was founded in the poor neighborhoods of Los Angeles in the 1980s. Today, members are U.S.-born and immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala. MS-13 has spread to other parts of the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Central America.
"Transnational criminal organizations like MS-13 represent one of the gravest threats to American safety. These organizations enrich themselves by pedaling poison in our communities, trafficking children for sexual exploitation and inflicting horrific violence in the communities where they operate," Sessions said.
Sessions, the nation's top law enforcement official, said his Department of Justice had "zero tolerance for gang violence." He said his remedies included securing the border, expanding immigration enforcement and choking off supply lines.
In an early-morning tweet, his boss, President Donald Trump, blamed former President Barack Obama for the growth of MS-13.
"The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin. allowed bad MS 13 gangs to form in cities across U.S. We are removing them fast!" the president tweeted.
The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin. allowed bad MS 13 gangs to form in cities across U.S. We are removing them fast!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2017
MS-13 members have been involved with robbery, extortion, drug trafficking and human smuggling. The gang operates in 40 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Justice Department.
The department says there are more than 30,000 MS-13 members in total and about 10,000 in the U.S. The Department of the Treasury labeled MS-13 a "transnational criminal organization" in 2012.
Sessions vowed to cut off the group's revenue resources.
Later, Trump praised Sessions' announcement.
"I promised to get tough and we are!" he tweeted after Sessions spoke.
AG Sessions is doing a fantastic job: announced today new steps to dismantle violent gangs like MS-13. I promised to get tough and we are!— President Trump (@POTUS) April 18, 2017