The MS-13 gang became a focal point in the news last week, thanks to President Trump. The Mara Salvatrucha, as the gang is also known, has operated in the United States and in El Salvador since the 1980s, and federal agencies have fought for decades to decimate their influence, along with that of 33,000 criminal gangs that operate in the United States. But for Trump, a few recent sting operations that have yielded dozens of MS-13 arrests were enough to declare a de-facto war on the gang. Never mind that federal agencies have conducted many crackdowns on MS-13 members in past years, such as the indictment of 51 members in Boston in 2016 and of 37 members in North Carolina in 2015. Using all the might and fury of his bullish bravado, Trump called them “predators,” and “criminal aliens,” and “animals,” and promised to “send them the hell back from where they came from.” He has found a new boogeyman to parade in his rallies, and it’s not a coincidence that he has chosen a Latino gang.
The stench of Trump’s anti-Latino and anti-immigrant rhetoric is not easy to ignore politely. It’s all over his actions because the man himself doesn’t have the capability, or the desire, to mask it, and one should look no deeper than the words he uses to see his true motives. Let’s recall the words with which he launched his asinine relationship with the Latino community, especially with Mexicans: They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. Later on, he promised to build the wall between the United States and Mexico, noting that the United States needs to “keep illegals out.”
As president, he has found a new outlet to continue stigmatizing the Latino community, and what better way to do so than with an existing criminal organization that can seemingly justify his attack on Mexicans and immigrants? It’s a cathartic moment for Trump, a distorted vindication for his promise to build a wall to keep Mexicans and Central Americans out, and for his twisted notion that all Latinos are criminals and rapists. Promising to send members of the MS-13 “the hell back from where they came from” is an insult that many of us law-abiding Latinos have heard at least once in our lifetime. It’s coded language that unfortunately, as much as we may want to separate the good from the bad and because Trump doesn’t do nuance, extends to the rest of the Latino community, Mara or not.
For any American of Mexican descent and any Latino or immigrant who has been demonized and discriminated in the United States, the words Trump used to describe the MS-13 gang ring a tone that is all too familiar. He used the words “criminal aliens” and “animals,” and knowing him, he will pedal these terms each time he has the chance. It’s a tactic that has worked throughout history to establish “undesirable” communities as the dangerous “other” that must be feared and ultimately, deported or eliminated. For instance, he has used the words “radical Islamic terrorist” over and over, taking every chance he has to lash out at terrorists and linking them to Islam, and in doing so he attacks the Muslim population, the vast majority of which are law-abiding, peaceful citizens. Now, Trump has found a similar antagonist to attach to the Latino community and to continue what he started when he called us criminals and rapists. He has found his Latino boogeyman.