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In this episode of BackBeat, the crew expands on what was covered in its 14th drop, “MS-13: Made in the USA,” and sheds more light on the Salvadoran civil war that claimed 75,000 lives and displaced about a million people.
As the title of our anchor episode indicates, it was this civil war, and U.S. support for a brutal Salvadoran military regime, that contributed to the humanitarian crisis eventually resulting in the creation of MS-13. The gang originated in the streets of Los Angeles as Salvadoran refugees fleeing the war-torn nation. Many of these young men were in search of camaraderie and protection from other established domestic American gangs, and thus, formed MS-13.
Although MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, accounts for only 1 percent of gang membership in the United States, President Trump has sounded the alarm about its very real violence in speeches, press conferences, and, most notably, during his State of the Union Address in January. It was in that nationally televised address to an assembled Congress that Trump called for an end to “loopholes” allowing violent gangsters from entering the United States.
Yet what Trump, and many other elected officials, always somehow fail to mention is that MS-13 is an American-made export, and that many of the minors fleeing Central America—also the gang’s prime targets—are desperately trying to avoid forced gang recruitment.
Immigration advocates believe the tough rhetoric emanating from the White House and other government agencies is part and parcel of anti-immigrant policies championed by Trump and his supporters. By all accounts, ICE, which didn’t even exist until 2003, has significantly stepped up deportation activity since Trump took office in 2017.
We discuss a recent report co-published by The New York Times and nonprofit Marshall Project titled “The Myth of the Criminal Immigrant,” which highlights a sweeping study conducted by four American universities debunking the assumption that increased immigration results in more violence.
In fact, the report notes:
“According to data from the study, a large majority of the areas have many more immigrants today than they did in 1980 and fewer violent crimes. The Marshall Project extended the study’s data up to 2016, showing that crime fell more often than it rose even as immigrant populations grew almost across the board.”
We also give a News Beat podcast shoutout to journalist Hannah Dreier’s extraordinary piece about how a young Salvadoran fled his country to escape MS-13, only to be thrust back into gang activity again after he was outed by an MS-13 member on Long Island. It’s called “The Betrayal of Triste” and was co-published by nonprofit investigative reporting outlet Pro-Publica.
As an added bonus, we interview the revolutionary hip-hop duo Rebel Diaz, who, with El Salvadoran hip hop artist Cruz Kontrol, provided the unbelievable lyrical contribution for this episode. The Chilean brothers discuss how they became involved in the social justice movement, the spirit that embodies their extraordinary music, and how militarism, neoliberalism and American intervention has spawned global crises we’re still confronting today.
Want to learn more about El Salvador’s civil war?
Check out Raymond Bonner’s book “Weakness and Deceit: America and El Salvador’s Dirty War.”
Or read the United Nation Truth Commission report on the conflict, which found that a staggering 85 percent of the violence was carried out by U.S.-supported state forces, including death squads. It’s titled: “From Madness to Hope: the 12-year war in El Salvador: Report of the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador.”