With the indictment of 56 individuals two weeks ago in a vast crackdown on the MS-13 street gang, surprise was certainly in order for the depth of how involved Everett was in the matter, but now that surprise has turned to questions about policies regarding illegal immigrants at the southern border – and just how those federal policies affect safety on East Boston streets.
At a press conference following the arrests and indictments in Boston’s Federal Court two weeks ago, the Independent asked whether or not those accused in the operation were part of the Central American surge at the border over the last two years – where “unaccompanied minors” were allowed to enter the country and then be released to a sponsor within the U.S.
At the time, federal officials, including U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, could not answer the question, but at least two of the gang leaders were in the country illegally and in possession of an illegal firearm – and many of those arrested were assumed to have entered the U.S. within the last few years.
Oscar ‘Psycho’ Noe Recines-Garcia and Julio Esau ‘Violento’ Avalos-Alvarado were both standing members, allegedly, in the Locos Salvatrucha clique of MS-13. In the federal indictment, they were named as being illegally in the U.S. and knowingly possessing illegally a .22 calibre handgun with 12 rounds of ammunition.
Such revelations have led many to wonder if the policies of “catch and release” at the southern border over the last three or four years has led, in an offshoot, to the local gang violence outlined in the groundbreaking operation two weeks ago.
“This is the side effect of this catch and release policy at the border the last three years and could have been prevented by more prudent federal policies,” said Jessica Vaughan, a Massachusetts resident and a researcher on immigrant gang violence for the Center for Immigration Studies. “Now that it’s happened, it’s important we use the tools that are available to address it. It’s important that all community members cooperate with ICE. These gang members and offenders who are here illegally are more vulnerable because they are illegally here…Even as someone who follows gang activity and illegal immigration, I was shocked at the numbers of especially violent events and the concentration of them.”
Leaders of La Communidad– an immigrant rights group that has fought for immigration reform – were not immediately available for their take on the situation.
Vaughan said she believes it is important for communities like Eastie, Everett and Chelsea – where these gangs seem to be thriving – to work with federal officials and not get in the way of such enforcement through things like the Trust Act. Such local legislation calls for municipal and local police officials to block federal immigration law enforcement activities, something that has been done in Lawrence and Somerville.
She also said in her studies – which include looking into similar MS-13 enclaves in Virginia and Long Island – many are beginning to believe that the gang has exploited the lax border policy over the last few years to send members of the gang into the country.
“Many that I have talked to in law enforcement believe that these older guys actively recruit kids from El Salvador to come up and take advantage of the very lenient policies at the border for kids who are without their parents,” she said. “I believe what we have now is these criminal organizations understanding they have an opportunity to swell the numbers that are in the U.S. with kids already involved with the gang in El Salvador.
“Because of these lax policies and releasing these kids with no questions asked and no home check of their sponsor, that East Boston, Chelsea, and Everett have a real problem,” she continued. “It would have been much easier to take care of this at the border than to clean it up now.”