ARIZONA NEWS

McSally meets with Trump over MS-13 gang, border security issues

Feb 6, 2018, 6:45 PM | Updated: Feb 7, 2018, 8:17 am

FILE - In this Jan. 10, 2018 file photo, House Homeland Security Border and Maritime Security Subco...

FILE - In this Jan. 10, 2018 file photo, House Homeland Security Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., right, speaks during a news conference with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. on Capitol Hill in Washington. McSally called on the national GOP to "grow a pair of ovaries" as she launched her bid for the U.S. Senate on Friday, Jan. 12, joining the race to replace retiring GOP Sen. Jeff Flake by embracing President Donald Trump and his outsider playbook in one of the nation's premier Senate contests. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

LISTEN: Martha McSally, Arizona Congresswoman

PHOENIX — U.S. Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) was among a group of lawmakers who met with President Donald Trump on Tuesday to discuss cracking down on the MS-13 gang, which the president sees as a high-priority.

During the roundtable discussion, McSally — who is currently running for Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat — argued that a U.S.-Mexico border wall could stop these “dangerous criminal organizations” from taking “advantage of us.”

“This is very real for the people I represent. We have got to secure our border,” McSally said. “That includes, as you know, a comprehensive border wall system and everything that our agents need in order to be able to secure our border.”

In her talks, McSally claimed that “illegal crossers” are being directed by drug cartels to turn themselves into Border Patrol and make false asylum claims.

“If they are an unaccompanied minor from Mexico or Canada, they are then released quickly into the interior of the United States and we can’t do anything about it. Most of them don’t show up for their future court dates in the future,” she claimed.

“We know that transnational criminal organizations are taking advantage of the loopholes in our system. We’ve got to stop them at the border where I live — and that includes securing the border and closing these ridiculous loopholes.”

MS-13 — short for La Mara Salvatrucha — is a gang made up mostly of immigrants or descendants of immigrants from El Salvador. It has been functioning in the U.S. since the 1980s.

Trump, during his State of the Union address last month, called on Congress to “finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminals, to break into our country.”

But, despite the rhetoric from McSally and Trump, there is not much of an MS-13 presence in Arizona.

According to the Department of Justice, there are more than 10,000 MS-13 members in the U.S., with a strong presence in the Los Angeles, New York, Virginia and Washington D.C. areas.

A 2015 Arizona Criminal Justice Commission report showed that more than 60 percent of Arizona law enforcement agencies surveyed said the gang’s activity was “not applicable.”

Douglas Coleman, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Phoenix Division, told Cronkite News earlier this month that MS-13 does not have an “entrenched footprint” in Arizona, but agents occasionally deal with its members.

“It’s a much bigger problem in other states,” he said. “MS-13 is very prominent in Southern California, the Los Angeles area. We see significant portions of them back east — in Washington D.C., New York has some.”

Coleman said there is a different gang that causes trouble in Arizona: The Sinaloa cartel.

Compared with the Sinaloa cartel’s operations, Coleman characterized MS-13 as at the “lower, retail end of the drug trade,” supporting gang leadership in El Salvador through their criminal income.

Cronkite News’ Gabriel Sandler contributed to this report.

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McSally meets with Trump over MS-13 gang, border security issues