President Donald Trump is once again grossly exaggerating the success of his efforts to deport members of the MS-13, a gang founded by El Salvadoran immigrants. This time he claims that his administration has removed “pretty much” half of the gang members. That’s impossible.
There are an estimated 10,000 MS-13 gang members in the U.S. – a number that has been fairly constant for years, dating to at least 2006. Half of 10,000 would be about 5,000. However, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says that the U.S. has deported 2,798 members of all gangs, not just MS-13, from Oct. 1, 2016, to June 4, 2017, which overlaps the Obama and Trump administrations.
The president made his remarks during a meeting with a group of people whose loved ones were killed by people living in the U.S. illegally.
Trump, June 28: MS-13 is a prime target. They are bad people. And we’ve gotten many of them out already. You know, we’re pretty much at the 50 percent mark. We’re getting them out as fast as we can get them out, and we’re freeing up towns. We’re actually liberating towns, if you can believe that we have to do that in the United States of America. But we’re doing it, and we’re doing it fast.
The Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, is a gang that was formed by El Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Trump has targeted its members as part of his efforts to deport people living illegally in the U.S. with criminal records. But the president repeatedly has overstated the impact of the administration’s crackdown on the MS-13 gang.
As we wrote last week, Trump falsely claimed at a June 21 rally in Iowa that his administration had deported MS-13 gang members “by the thousands.” Actually, the number is in the hundreds.
Let’s go through the facts again.
In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that there are 10,000 MS-13 gang members in the United States. That number has been fairly constant for years, dating to at least 2006, even though more than 7,000 members of the gang have been arrested since fiscal year 2005 as part of “Operation Community Shield.”
For Trump to claim that half of the Ms-13 gang members have been deported would mean that his administration is responsible for about 5,000 removals of MS-13 members.
Here’s why that is not possible: Danielle Bennett, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told us in an email for our earlier story that so far in fiscal year 2017 — from Oct. 1, 2016, to June 4, 2017 — ICE has removed 2,798 gang members. That includes all gang members, not just MS-13 members. For perspective, the FBI says there are about 33,000 street gangs with about 1.4 million members.
The White House declined to comment when we contacted them for our June 22 story about the MS-13 gang. It has not responded to our request for information this time.
However, the Washington Post Fact Checker on June 26 quoted White House spokesman Steven Cheung as saying the president was right to say “we are moving them out of the country by the thousands,” because Operation Community Shield has resulted in “more than 4,300 criminal arrests and nearly 3,000 civil immigration arrests of MS-13 leaders, members and associates.” But that’s the number of total arrests since fiscal year 2005. The vast majority of those arrests over the last 13 years had nothing to do with Trump.
As of June 4, ICE Homeland Security Investigations made 602 criminal arrests and 170 administrative immigration arrests of MS-13 gang members in FY2017, Angel Melendez, an ICE HSI special agent, told a House committee on June 20. The federal fiscal year begins Oct. 1, so those arrests were made under both the Obama and Trump administrations.
We do not know how many MS-13 gang members have been deported. Bennett, the ICE spokeswoman, told us last week, that ICE “does not track gang removals by specific gang.”
With his latest comments, Trump elevates this talking point from a falsehood to a whopper.
Update, July 5: The U.S. has deported 580 gang members to El Salvador in the first half of 2017, from Jan. 1 to June 30, according to the Salvadoran government. That figure includes all gang members, not just those with MS-13.