Trump Blasts MS-13 in Push for Stricter Immigration Laws

July 28th 2017

It's been a tough week for President Donald Trump. Republicans in the Senate failed to repeal Obamacare, his White House is mired in infighting, and communications director Anthony Scaramucci is already melting down, spewing profanity to The New Yorker.

Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that Trump is trying to pivot away from all his losses and back to a campaign favorite: bashing immigrants. 

According to The New York Times, Trump's latest anti-immigration push hinges on two proposals: Kate's Law, and the No Sanctuary Criminals Act. 

Kate's Law is named for Katheryn Steinle, a U.S. citizen killed in 2015 by Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, an undocumented immigrant with seven felony convictions. He had been deported five times, and had returned to the United States. According to The Washington Post, the law "would enhance penalties for convicted and deported criminals who reenter the United States illegally." The No Sanctuary for Criminals Act cuts funding for "sanctuary cities," or jurisdictions that do not assist with federal deportation efforts. 

Critics argue that these laws are overreaching reactions to a limited problem. 

In an open letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the ACLU noted that Kate's Law creates a five-year mandatory minimum for undocumented immigrants who return to the country after a felony conviction—fueling, in the group's view, the problem of mass incarceration in the United States. "A new mandatory minimum sentence will not stop illegal reentry any more than mandatory minimum drug sentences have stopped the opioid health crisis impacting our country now," the letter states. "We cannot incarcerate our way out of this country’s drug problems, or its immigration problems."

Both laws have already passed the House. 

It will be hard for these bills to pass the Senate, however, where there's but a slim Republican majority. According to The Atlantic, "Just three Democrats in the House supported the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act. While Kate’s Law received support from 24 of them in the lower chamber, their Senate counterparts don’t seem likely to follow suit."

To push his agenda, Trump spoke Friday about alleged MS-13 gang members in Long Island.

Speaking to an audience of police officers at Suffolk Community College on Long Island, Trump was quick to cite the gang MS-13 as a byproduct of illegal immigration. "For many years, they exploited America’s weak borders and immigration enforcement," Trump said, according to The Washington Post. "They are there right now because of weak political leadership... and in many cases police who are not allowed to do their job because they have a pathetic mayor or a mayor who does not know what’s going on.'"

But MS-13 is a product of the United States. 

While MS-13 is strongest in central America—specifically El Salvador—it was originally formed in the 1980s in California prisons, according to CNN. Experts note that using the gang to justify mass deportations could backfire, making the gang stronger. In fact, it was mass deportations that sent gang members back to El Salvador, where they formed a Central American branch of the gang. And, as the Post notes, "many members of MS-13 are U.S. citizens and are under 18 years old."

Moreover, violent felons make up an exceedingly small percentage of immigrants, who commit fewer crimes, on average, than those born in the U.S.

Rather than targeting this small minority of criminals, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is largely deporting those who don't even have a criminal record. According to Think Progress, John Sandweg, the former acting director of ICE, told reporters this week that the "reality" is that ICE's priority is "to try and set a record number of deportations.“ And that means targeting "individuals who can be deported quickly," which, in practice, has meant those most easy to find, like those showing up for their annual check-in at an ICE office. "In plain English, these are individuals who do not need to see an immigration court judge."

Trump's approach to immigration is not making us safer, but demonizing immigrants, he hopes, will be good for his dismal approval rating.

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