Attorney General Jeff Sessions, speaking to the Justice Department's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) on April 18, pledged that the Trump administration will have "zero tolerance for gang violence" from "transnational criminal organizations"—particularly singling out MS-13, the Central American narco-network that has its roots on the streets of Los Angeles. Citing a February executive order in which President Trump directed the Justice Department "to interdict and dismantle transnational criminal organizations," Sessions promised "concrete ideas to follow through" on the directive.
Added Sessions: "So let me state this clearly. Under President Trump, the Justice Department has zero tolerance for gang violence. 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. MS-13 has become a symbol of this plague that has spread across our country and into our communities."
Sessions noted recent slayings in Long Island and New Jersey attributed MS-13. Despite its LA origins, MS-13 has in recent years been far more active in El Salvador. Indeed, MS-13 and its rivals have been responsible for much nightmarish violence in Central America. Sessions, however, warned of a growing stateside presence: "There are over 30,000 members abroad with their headquarters in the El Salvadoran prison system. According to the National Gang Intelligence Center, MS-13 now has more than 10,000 members in at least 40 states in this country—up significantly from just a few years ago."
And he didn't fail to score points against what he portrayed as weak-willed liberals: "Because of an open border and years of lax immigration enforcement, MS-13 has been sending both recruiters and members to regenerate gangs that previously had been decimated, and smuggling members across the border as unaccompanied minors."
Just a few days earlier, Sessions minced no words during a visit to the US-Mexico border in Nogales, Ariz., where he announced a new get-tough approach to immigration enforcement. Making clear that his crackdown would not just extend to gangbangers, Sessions said he will direct federal prosecutors to pursue harsher charges against undocumented immigrants. "For those that continue to seek improper and illegal entry into this country, be forewarned: This is a new era. This is the Trump era."
Despite this pledge of an indiscriminate crackdown on the undocumented, Sessions of course portrayed it as a crusade against gangs "that turn cities and suburbs into war zones, that rape and kill innocent citizens and who profit by smuggling poison and other human beings across our borders." In the written version of his announcement, Sessions proclaimed in unsublte terms: "It is here, on this sliver of land, where we first take our stand against this filth."
In reporting Sessions' Nogales comments, Mother Jones took strong issue with his grim portrayal. Wrote MJ: "In contrast to the dire picture Sessions painted, crime rates in American border cities have been dropping for at least five years. Even after a year of increased violent crime—which officials said had nothing to do with cartels or spillover violence—El Paso, Texas, is among the safest of its size in the nation."
The New York Times also noted in January several studies concluding that immigrants are actually less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States. "There's no way I can mess with the numbers to get a different conclusion," said Alex Nowrasteh, immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute.
Fears upon Sessions' confirmation of police-state measures appear to be materializing. In another announcement in late March, Sessions said he will withhold federal funding to law enforcement agencies in "sanctuary cities" that do not cooperate with the immigration crackdown.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) urged states and localities to "reject the Trump administration's reckless and inhumane deportation agenda." The ACLU applauded the California state senate's recent approval of the California Values Act (less formally, the Sanctuary State Act), which will establish statewide standards "to ensure that state and local resources are not used to deport thousands of Californians who belong here with their families and whose removal only serves to harm the children, families, and communities left behind."
There's battle lines being drawn, and, as ever, it is amusing to see conservative Republicans abandoning their supposed commitment to states' rights where the federal crackdown on drugs, crime and immigration is concerned.