What is MS-13, the violent gang Trump vowed to target?

Trumpeting his administration's crackdown on illegal immigration and violent crime, President Donald Trump is traveling to Long Island to urge Congress to dedicate more funding to the fight.

Trump will speak Friday at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood, New York – an area plagued by violence from the vicious street gang MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha.

Read on for a look at the violent gang and how Trump has pledged to stop them.

What is MS-13?

MS-13 was started by Central American immigrants, mainly from El Salvador, in Los Angeles in the 1980s. It has expanded since then to include Hondurans, Guatemalans, Mexicans and other Central and South Americans.

MS-13’s motto is “mata, viola, controla” – which means "kill, rape, control," according to Robert Hur, an official with the Justice Department.

“They seek to live up to this motto through truly shocking acts of violence designed to instill fear: vicious machete attacks, execution-style gunshots, gang rape and human trafficking.”


University of Houston sociology professor Luis Salinas told Fox Business that much of violence carried out by MS-13 is because of extortion and prostitution.

Gang members perpetuate a number of various criminal acts, according to the F.B.I., including: murder, rape, home invasions, kidnapping, carjacking and robbery. The F.B.I. said most of the crimes are carried out against members of rival gangs, but “often” innocent people are hurt in the crimes as well.

Are they a big threat?

MS-13 recruits are middle- and high-school students, predominantly in immigrant communities, who are said to risk violent retribution if they leave.

Authorities estimate the group has tens of thousands of members across several Central American countries and many U.S. states. MS-13's presence is higher in the western and northeastern parts of the U.S. with the highest levels of Salvadorian immigrants, according to the F.B.I.


In New York's Suffolk County, MS-13 is responsible for 17 murders in the past 18 months. But suspects have been charged in only three of the killings so far, according to the New York Times.

What has the Trump administration said about MS-13?

Trump has blamed the Obama administration for the rise of MS-13 across the country. The gang was sanctioned as a transnational criminal organization by the Treasury Department in 2012.

Trump's Justice and Homeland Security Departments have made targeting the gang a top priority. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has directed his department's law enforcement agencies and federal prosecutors across the country to prioritize their prosecution, as directed by an executive order Trump signed in February, among other measures.


"We're liberating our towns and we're liberating our cities. Can you believe we have to do that?" Trump said at an Ohio rally earlier this week, adding that law enforcement agents were rooting out gang members — and "not doing it in a politically correct fashion. We're doing it rough."

The Department of Homeland Security’s investigative unit has arrested 3,311 gang members since January.


Trump's trip comes as Sessions is visiting El Salvador as part of a mission to increase international cooperation against the gang. Sessions met Thursday with his Salvadoran counterpart and members of an international anti-gang task force.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said the president’s visit will “give hope to the community that the United States government and literally the most powerful person in the world stands with [them].”

What are some of MS-13’s more notable killings?

-Two teenage girls from Brentwood, N.Y. were found dead after being brutally beaten and cut in September 2016. Kayla Cuevas, 16, was targeted by gang members and her friend, 15-year-old Nisa Mickens, tried to scare off the attacks, WPIX-TV reported.

-The remains of Oscar Acosta, a 19-year-old high school senior, were found in a wooded area in Brentwood in September 2016. Acosta, who had been missing for months, came to the U.S. from El Salvador and had told his mother he was worried about gangs, she told WNBC-TV.

-The remains of Miguel Garcia-Moran were found in the same area as Acosta’s in September 2016. He was 15-years-old at the time of his death and had been missing since February. Police said he was the victim of a homicidal beating.

-Damaris Reyes Rivas, 15, was killed in January and found one month later buried under railroad ties. The girl, from Gaithersburg, Md., was stabbed multiple times by MS-13 gang members who filmed the brutal attack. A 17-year-old gang member who gave the orders and narrated the attack was reportedly promoted within the gang for his involvement in the murder.

-The bodies of four young men, ranging in ages from 16 to 20, were found in April 2017 in a park in Central Islip, N.Y. Police said all had signs of “significant trauma.” Justin Llivicura, 16; Michael Lopez Banegas, 20; Jefferson Villalobos, 18; and Jorge Tigre, 18 were reportedly lured to a park by two women associated with MS-13 before they were ambushed by more than a dozen gang members armed with wooden clubs and machetes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.