Police arrest suspects after dismantling a network that managed the finances and assets of key leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha group, or MS-13 gang, in San Salvador. (Ericka Chavez / EPA) By Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, Mariely Lopez-Santana and December 7 at 5 o'clock in the morning. For weeks, the Trump administration has warned against the Central American caravan that is now stalled and waiting in camps just south of the US border. Without justification, the administration warns that a large number of these migrants and refugees belong to criminal organizations, including MS-13. This is not new. Since Donald Trump became President of the United States, he has regularly relied on MS-13, including in his second State of the Union address. His administration has also concentrated on it. In mid-October, for example, the Attorney General of the day, Jeff Sessions, created a federal task force to fight transnational criminal groups, including MS-13, the Lebanese Hezbollah and Sinaloa. So, what is the MS-13? Here's what you need to know. 1. The MS-13 appeared in the United States. The Salvatrucha Mara was formed in southern California in the 1980s by children of Salvadoran immigrants who had fled the civil war from 1979 to 1992 in their country. The name of the gang comes from: "Mara" means "gang" in Central American Spanish. "Salva" underlines their Salvadoran origins. "Trucha" is the Spanish slang of wisdom. In the early 1990s, Mara Salvatrucha (MS) became a member of a regional gang alliance led by another street gang, the Mexican Mafia, or "Eme". As a result, MS has added the number 13, which corresponds to the letter M in the alphabet. In the early 1990s, warring factions in El Salvador signed peace agreements. Hundreds of thousands of Salvadoran exiles have returned home. At the same time, the US government deported nearly 4,000 gang members with criminal records. But the Central American countries to which they were sent were not powerful enough to curb their criminal activities; The socio-economic situation was not healthy enough to absorb deportees in communities and jobs. MS-13 was able to recruit, grow and prosper. [How deporting immigrants from the U.S. increases immigration to the U.S.] Currently, the MS-13 has between 50,000 and 70,000 members, most concentrated in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, known as the North Triangle of Central America. According to official FBI statistics for 2009, the latest official estimates, the US has between 8,000 and 10,000 MS-13 members. This represents less than 1% of the total number of gang members in the United States. According to US Customs and Border Protection estimates, between 2012 and 2017, one out of every 5,000 minor migrants was "confirmed or suspected" to have an MS-13 affiliation. However, the United States does not have recent or systematic data on gang membership or criminal activity. Consider the fact that the latest estimates are from 2011, when there would be "about 1.4 million people on the streets, prisons and [outlaw motorcycle] gang members with more than 33,000 gangs in the United States. " Since then, the NGIC has used the 2011 estimates. Given the lack of systematic data, it is difficult to conduct evidence-based research or policy development. 2. What is the difference between MS-13 in the North Triangle and the United States? As part of an ongoing research project on the nature and organization of MS-13 in the United States, we interviewed journalists and academics, as well as those responsible for the application of the law and public authorities of the Washington Metropolitan Area, which has a high concentration of MS-13. members. We learned that there are marked differences between gangs in the United States and Central America. In Central America, the gang is a semi-hierarchical organization, with cells or clickas at the lowest level, grouped into a regional program. Theprograma leaders, who tend to be in prison and older than the theclicas leaders, make up the theranfla, the gang's highest level. Theranfladoes do not necessarily direct activities at all lower levels, as MS-13 tends to operate in a franchise model. Nevertheless, in El Salvador, gang leaders negotiated with government authorities. In the Northern Triangle, MS-13 and Barrio-18, another powerful gang, compete with the government for power, sometimes controlling entire neighborhoods. They pay corrupt officials and exercise power through extortion, fear and brutal violence. El Salvador has been one of the most violent countries not at war, partly because of the violence of its gangs. In response, the government helped negotiate a gang truce from 2012 to 2014. After the truce, the number of homicides dropped significantly – but in early 2014, the number of murders had returned to its previous level. [The news media usually show immigrants as dangerous criminals. That’s changed — for now, at least.] In contrast, in the United States, MS-13 is a fragmented organization with no clear hierarchy. The researcher José Miguel Cruz, for example, describes it as "a federation of adolescent neighborhood cliques sharing the MS-13 mark". Without significant national and transnational leadership, American cliques compete with each other. This limits collective actions, preventing them from engaging in large-scale criminal activities and generating stable incomes. In the United States, MS-13 clans have also committed heinous killings. However, in the United States, only 13% of homicides are gang-related, well below the 40% of homicides in the North Triangle. More importantly, their crimes are much less important. In the United States, rather than controlling entire communities, MS-13 has focused on threatening and extorting members of the Latin American community in a few areas, particularly the suburbs of Washington. , New York, New Jersey, Boston and Houston, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. 3. MS-13 is not a transnational drug cartel Some MS-13 activities are transnational, including drug and human trafficking, money laundering and trafficking in drugs. migrants. But it is not effective in any of these cases. Their clickas are rather opportunistic, sometimes working for drug cartels and other powerful gangs. In the United States, clickas are at the bottom of the distribution network and deal with small-scale drug trafficking in neighborhoods and schools controlled by other gangs. [Republicans’ hard-line stance on immigration may alienate millennials for years] Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera (@gcorreacabrera) and Mariely López-Santana (@marielylopezs) Are Associate Professors at the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government, where Camilo Pardo (@ Pardo96_) is a doctoral candidate. .