In its first year, the Trump Administration has used aggressive rhetoric in a crusade against the transnational gang MS‑13. In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called MS‑13 “one of the most violent gangs in the history of our country” and said that the gang “could qualify” as a terrorist organization. Since then, the administration has put its fight against MS‑13 at the front and center of its agenda. In a speech this summer, President Donald Trump called MS‑13 gang members “animals” and vowed to “dismantle, decimate and eradicate” their operations. The president has also used the threat posed by MS‑13 to justify his increased use of immigration enforcement generally.

While the rhetoric coming from the administration against MS‑13 is tough, the president has yet to develop a comprehensive plan to combat the gang. Law enforcement officials argue that Trump’s harsh deportation policies will make the fight against MS‑13 more difficult by impairing their ability to gather intelligence on the gang within immigrant communities. Furthermore, hardline approaches against the gang by Central American governments like El Salvador, to which the administration plans to cut aid, have failed in the past because of the region’s weak security and judicial institutions. In fact, experts warn that the combination of mass deportation and weak institutions in Central America could create the perfect storm for MS‑13 to grow and boomerang back into the United States.