AUSTIN, Texas – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is emphasizing the menace of the transnational MS-13 gang in explaining why the National Guard troops requested by President Donald Trump are needed at the border with Mexico.
Trump has justified his call for a border wall and crackdown on illegal immigration in part on the need to stop MS-13, a vicious gang held responsible for murders in cities across the U.S. But sealing the border completely would not eliminate the gang. It was founded in the U.S. in the 1980s by Salvadoran immigrants and has sunk roots in the country. Some of its members are U.S. citizens and not subject to deportation or border enforcement.
A look at Abbott's statement and the more complex reality behind it.
ABBOTT: "Stunningly, and disturbingly, there's been an increase of more than 200 percent of MS-13 coming across the border," Abbott said during a visit to National Guard troops at Weslaco, Texas on April 12.
THE FACTS: It's true MS-13 apprehensions have risen after several years of decline. Abbott, a Republican, was speaking in the Rio Grande Valley, the busiest sector of the southern border, and his reference to the sharp increase was for that area. For that sector, the increase in MS-13 apprehensions is even greater than Abbott said — nearly 300 percent in the six months through March, according to Border Patrol data. But the numbers are small at 123 MS-13 arrests of the more than 66,000 apprehensions in that sector during that time. Nationwide, the Border Patrol says 181 of its arrests were MS-13 gang members during the same six-month period.
Until this year, apprehensions of MS-13 had declined gradually from 437 in 2014. If the current rate of MS-13 apprehensions continues another six months, the total number for the year would reverse that trend but wouldn't top 2014.
Tattoos "are the most common" way agents determine whether someone is in MS-13 although interviews and background checks also identify gang members, Border Patrol spokesman Marcelino Medina said.
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