Deportation Feeds a Cycle of Violence in Central America

Deporting criminals doesn't get rid of the problem, it makes it worse


| April 6, 2006


Immigration reform is on everyone's mind, from undocumented workers to employers to members of Congress. One solution, proposed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin) in the form of HR 4437, is the mandatory deportation of all undocumented immigrants inside the United States. However, as Sam Logan with Ben Bain and Kate Kairies write for the International Relations Center, a global strategy organization, some current deportation policies in the United States already lead to a self-perpetuating cycle of violence.

Some of the largest beneficiaries of current US deportation policies are street gangs like 'Mara Salvatrucha' or MS-13. According to Logan, Bain, and Kairies, gangs 'have become a leading cause of insecurity in Central America.' Since its beginnings in Southern California, MS-13 has grown into an organized crime syndicate operating throughout much of Central America with a presence on both the east and west coasts of the United States.

These criminal organizations are well versed in US deportation policies and immigration loopholes. In fact, they may rely on them. Logan, Bain, and Kairies point out that when gang members are deported from US prisons, they often 'have little to depend on in their home countries, outside of gang connections.' Deportations actually fuel criminal organizations like MS-13 by providing them with new recruits, contacts, methods, and organizational strategies. The gangs then put these strategies to use by sending members back into the United States, creating a cycle of violence.

Efforts are underway to break the cycle. The FBI has taken part in at least one 'transnational operation' in Central America to arrest violent international criminals. According to Logan and his colleagues, operations like this 'represent a good start in tackling this complex, multi-faceted transnational problem.' While the authors acknowledge the need for immigration reform, their focus is on international solutions, not isolationist policies. The article does not mention Sensenbrenner's bill to make the estimated 10 million undocumented workers in the United States into felons. But it leaves the reader wondering if criminalizing and deporting all undocumented workers isn't just morally suspect, but pragmatically wrong-headed as well by adding millions to a cycle of violence already perpetuated by US deportation policies.
-- Bennett Gordon

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