“They’re not people. These are animals.” That’s how the President of the United States characterized members of the MS-13 gang. MS-13 has become synonymous with violence associated with immigration, especially across the Southern Border, and the threat of MS-13 has been one of the principal ways the White House has campaigned for support of a border wall.
Somewhat ironically, MS-13’s origins are not in Mexico or Central America but in Los Angeles in the 1980s. The gang was and is a serious criminal threat, but the conflation of MS-13 with immigrants or even undocumented immigrants is false and dangerous.
MS-13 boasts about 9,000 members in the United States. By comparison, in 2006 the United States had about 11.5 million undocumented immigrants living within its borders with about a half-million crossing the border each year.
Fewer than one-in-a-thousand undocumented immigrants is an MS-13 member. Hispanic immigrants are literally more likely to be millionaires than MS-13 members.
But when we describe people as “animals” we give licence to treat them as sub-human and Mr Trump’s attitudes are, unfortunately, not uncommon within the immigration enforcement community. A recent report from the ACLU suggests “that Customs and Border Patrol officials are responsible for sexual abuse, physical assault, and denial of medical care, clean water and food.”
The report documents horrific conditions, monstrous indifference, and a pervasive tolerance for cruelty and neglect which most Americans would not tolerate in a pet shop, much less in a place that cares for children.
All of this happened, not under Mr. Trump’s watch, but during the Obama years. The White House could use that as an opportunity to break from the past but, if the President’s language is any indication, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.
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