||The 110th Congress has maintained a keen interest in the effects of crime and
gang violence in Central America and its spillover effects on the United States. Since
February 2005, more than 2,000 alleged members of the violent Mara Salvatrucha
(MS-13) gang have been arrested in cities across the United States. These arrests
have raised concerns about the transnational activities of Central American gangs,
and governments throughout the region are struggling to find the right combination
of suppressive and preventive policies to deal with them. Some analysts assert that
increasing U.S. deportations of individuals with criminal records to Central American
countries may be contributing to the gang problem.
Several U.S. agencies have been actively engaged on both the law enforcement
and preventive side of dealing with Central American gangs. An inter-agency
committee worked together to develop a U.S. Strategy to Combat Criminal Gangs
from Central America and Mexico, which was announced at a July 2007 U.S.-Central
American Integration System (SICA) summit on security issues. The strategy, which
is now being implemented, states that the U.S. government will pursue coordinated
anti-gang activities through five broad areas: diplomacy, repatriation, law
enforcement, capacity enhancement, and prevention.
During the first session of the 110th Congress, several Members introduced
immigration legislation – H.R. 1645 (Gutierrez), S. 330 (Isakson), and S. 1348
(Reid) – that included provisions to increase cooperation among the United States,
Mexico, and Central America in the tracking of gang activity and in the handling of
deported gang members. However, none of those bills were enacted. On October 2,
2007, the House passed H.Res. 564 (Engel) supporting expanded cooperation
between the United States and Central America to combat crime and violence. The
Consolidation Appropriations Act, FY2008 (H.R. 2764/P.L. 110-161), included the
provision of $8 million to the State Department to combat criminal youth gangs, $3
million more than the Administration’s request.
In June 2008, Congress appropriated $60 million for Central America in the
FY2008 Supplemental Appropriations Act, H.R. 2642 (P.L. 110-252). Those funds
will serve as initial funding for the Mérida Initiative, a new anticrime and counterdug
aid package for Mexico and Central America. With that funding, the State
Department reportedly plans to use roughly $13 million to support direct anti-gang
efforts, with another $4 million included for justice sector reform, $8.6 million for
police reform, and $18 million for related development programs.
This report describes the gang problem in Central America, discusses country
and regional approaches to deal with the gangs, and analyzes U.S. policy with respect
to gangs in Central America. It will be updated periodically. For more information
on the Mérida Initiative, see CRS Report RS22837, Merida Initiative: U.S. Anticrime
and Counterdrug Assistance for Mexico and Central America. For information on
the activities of Central American gangs in the United States, see CRS Report
RL34233, The MS-13 and 18th Street Gangs: Emerging Transnational Gang Threats.