President Donald Trump asserted his administration's approach to immigration enforcement is rooting out gang members affiliated with groups such as MS-13. Meanwhile, critics contend the president's immigration approach is too undiscerning between those in the country illegally and violent criminals.
On April 18, Trump took to social media to accuse his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, of allowing the MS-13 gang to flourish in the U.S. during his tenure.
"The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama [administration] allowed bad MS 13 gangs to form in cities across U.S.," Trump tweeted. "We are removing them fast!"
The president's assertion that MS-13 became prevalent across the nation during Obama's watch is not accurate. MS-13 had formed in the U.S. during the 1980s, comprised of Salvadoran migrants fleeing from a civil war. The FBI had established a task force to investigate the organization as early as 2004, and had estimated the gang had affiliates in 42 states and the District of Columbia by 2008, before Obama took office, reports Politico.
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Later that morning, Trump praised the immigration enforcement of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and asserted that his administration was rooting out violent immigrants during an interview with Fox News' "Fox and Friends."
"We've gotten tremendous criminals out of this country," Trump said. "I'm talking about illegal immigrants that were here that caused tremendous crime. That have murdered people, raped people -- horrible things have happened."
The president added that criminal immigrants were either "getting the hell out or they're going to prison."
Trump had campaigned heavily on cracking down on violent crimes committed by immigrants in the country illegally by improving border security and enforcing stricter deportations. In his view, his administration is following through on that promise.
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"And so many towns and cities are thanking me because we have gotten rid of a burden that you would not believe," Trump continued. "It is a serious problem and we never did anything about it, and now we're doing something about it."
That same day, Attorney General Jeff Sessions singled out MS-13 affiliates during an address to the Organized Crime Council and Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force's Executive Committee.
"Transnational criminal organizations like MS-13 represent one of the gravest threats to American safety," Sessions said. "These organizations enrich themselves by pedaling poison in our communities, trafficking children for sexual exploitation, and inflicting horrific violence in the communities where they operate."
Shortly after assuming office, Trump signed an executive order that broadened the criteria for immigrants in the country without permission to face priority deportation. While the Obama administration had prioritized the arrests and deportations of immigrants with extensive records and who committed violent crimes, the scope has been significantly widened.
Legal expert Hans von Spakovsky of the conservative Heritage Foundation told CNN that Trump's executive order expanded immigration enforcement priorities to "just about every illegal alien in the country."
Professor Stephen Legomsky of Washington University asserted that the new policy places law-abiding immigrants in the country illegally who have citizen children in the same category as violent offenders.
"That strikes me as crazy," Legomsky said.
Between January and mid-March, the number of immigration arrests by federal agents rose by 32.6 percent compared to the same period in 2016. Among the 21,362 immigrants arrested, 5,441 had no criminal records, The Washington Post reports.
Immigration Customs and Enforcement spokesperson Jennifer Elzea noted that while the agency is focused on arresting individuals who commit crimes, "ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement."