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Border agents say violent MS-13 recruiting at Arizona facility for new Central American arrivals

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FILE: June 18, 2014: A Customs and Border Protection officer helps youths make calls, at the agency's Nogales, Ariz., facility. (REUTERS)

MS-13 members are infiltrating a federal facility for Central American youths illegally entering the United States -- trying to cross the border with criminal pasts and recruiting others to join the notoriously violent, California-based gang, sources tell Fox News.

Shawn Moran, of the National Border Patrol Council, said the gang leaders are recruiting pre-teens, as they typically do, and following the lead of drug cartels also trying to fill their ranks from among the estimated 57,000 unaccompanied youths and others who have come to the U.S. from Central America in roughly the past nine months. 

He said agents have witnessed the recruiting at the Border Patrol’s facility in Nogales, Ariz., and that gang members are using a Red Cross phone bank there to “recruit, enlist and pressure” others illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

“It makes sense that MS-13 would do the same,” said Moran, vice president for the union, which represents border patrol agents.

He and local union officials also say agents are saying they cannot isolate admitted criminals and gang members, suspected gang members and those engaging in criminal behavior because they are minors.

The Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement each told FoxNews.com earlier this week that they have no knowledge of the MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, activities detailed by Moran and others. However, they pointed out that young unaccompanied aliens are held in ICE facilities for only the first 48 hours.

“We know it’s happening because agents are telling us,” Moran told Fox News. “The Border Patrol is trying to downplay it.”

He said agents have overhead the phone bank conversations and that potential recruits are given a phone number to call and say they are “willing to join” the gang.

MS-13 also has a large presence in El Salvador, which has in part led to many Central American youths fleeing that country. So at least some gang members would more than likely be among the tens of thousands of young illegal Central Americans who have recently arrived at the border, sources say.

Texas state GOP Sen. Dan Patrick said earlier this week that roughly 100,000 illegally immigrants living in his state are gang members.