Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., along with Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., introduced a bill Tuesday to make it easier to qualify for advanced sentencing due to gang activity and create a federal database of gang activity within the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The “Cracking Down on Gangs and Deporting Criminals Act of 2020” would expand the list of crimes related to gang activity that qualifies for an additional 10 years in sentencing. The bill would enable prosecutors to more easily pursue stricter sentences for gang members by making any one of the listed offenses eligible for the longer sentence.
“Gang violence ends innocent lives, ruins families, destroys communities and spreads fear,” Loeffler said in a release announcing the bill. “We must not only work to prevent the formation of gangs, but also to track their members and hold them accountable for their vile actions so we can end the violence and keep the American people safe.”
Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) Director Vic Reynolds said America is in “gang crisis,” and it poses the “greatest threat to public safety” in the nation.
“The alarming escalation of gang crime currently victimizing our nation proves what we at GBI have long known: America is in gang crisis,” Reynolds said.
“For years, studies have told us that gang membership in the U.S. exceeds well-over one million,” he continued. “Without a doubt, gangs, which honor no jurisdictional boundaries, pose the greatest threat to public safety befalling this nation.”
Under the bill, if an undocumented immigrant is convicted of any of the offenses that makes them eligible for a harsher sentence, they would be referred to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for potential deportation.
A national street gang database would keep records of information about gang activity between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as prosecution and corrections agencies. States and localities would be required to submit information to the database.
“Transnational gangs like MS-13 spread violence across our borders and traffic drugs into our communities and schools,” Blackburn said. “Only tough prison sentences and the threat of deportation will send a strong message of zero tolerance to these sophisticated and hardened criminals.”
After unsealing the indictment in Virginia against Melgar Diaz, Attorney General William Barr depicted him as the individual who "would green-light assassinations" at the gang's behest in the United States.
Analysts anticipate that the move will have a significant impact on America's ability to go after other gang members.
"The terrorism approach will open up and afford greater intelligence and investigative tools. Utilization of Patriot Act type laws and regulations will afford a more comprehensive U.S..S. and international approach to disruption and dismantlement of the organized crime aspects to each gang," Robert Clark, a former FBI gang specialist, told Fox News. "The terrorism laws and applications will afford greater intelligence gathering and investigative capacity as well as unilateral prosecution abilities."
The announcement came a day after grand juries in New York City and Nevada handed up new charges against nearly two dozen MS-13 members, ranging from drug dealing and kidnapping, to murder and racketeering.
Prosecutors are also seeking the death penalty against Alexi Saenz, another MS-13 leader in Long Island, N.Y., charged in seven killings, including those of two high school students slain with a machete and a baseball bat.
"We believe the monsters who murder children should be put to death," Trump told reporters at the White House, adding that his administration would not rest before bringing every member of the gang to justice.
MS-13 is believed to have been founded by immigrants in Los Angeles who had fled war in El Salvador in the 1980s. It is considered one of the top transnational organized crime threats in the United States. Barr has likened the group to a “death cult.”
"It's about the honor of being the most savage, bloodthirsty person you can be and building up a reputation as a killer," Barr has said.
The gang recruits young teenagers from El Salvador and Honduras, though many gang members were born in the U.S.
Trump, who visited Long Island in 2017 to address the gang problem, has blamed the violence and gang growth on lax immigration policies. The president said Wednesday that U.S. Immigration and Customs (ICE) has arrested more than 2,000 MS-13 members over the past few years.
Fox News' Bradford Betz and Hollie McKay contributed to this report.