U.S. Impact on Salvadoran Gangs

There are many notorious people who accuse Salvadoran migrants of trying to take advantage of the United States, or who accuse them of being members of violent gangs such as MS-13. However, most people do not understand the history behind why gangs have become so powerful. Contrary to what many believe to be true about Salvadorans, most are not at fault for the issues that plague the country today. Many of the issues can be attributed to U.S. involvement and ignorance of issues in El Salvador during the Salvadoran civil war, which devastated the country. In addition to that, deportations of existing gang members in the U.S. led to the formation of incredibly violent gangs in an already broken El Salvador. This led to the violent conditions that the nation and its civilians face today, causing El Salvador to have the highest murder rate in the world

The Salvadoran civil war was a conflict between the Salvadoran government and the  FMLN, or the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front along with several smaller left-wing groups that lasted between 1979 and 1992. The conflict began as many others do, with people rising up against the poverty that the nation was afflicted with. The FMLN and many other leftist groups argued that the government needed to make more of an effort to take care of its people because many were already starving or facing extreme poverty. Following many different violent altercations, the war eventually began in 1979. Because the nation was considered an ally of the United States during the Cold War, the United States pumped money into fighting off the left-wing opposition. While this was viewed as a good move to make during a time when there was much fear surrounding the potential rise of communism, the effects were detrimental to Salvadoran people. Regular civilians faced the consequences of the conflict, forcing many to flee to other countries, such as the United States. The aftermath of the war left El Salvador and many of its civilians broken, literally and figuratively.

Many would assume that since MS-13 and other gangs have a large influence in El Salvador today, they would have been founded in El Salvador during the aftermath of the war. However, these gangs actually formed in Los Angeles following the migration that many people were forced to undergo during the war. It may surprise people that one of the most dangerous gangs in the world actually started out as a means to protect other Salvadoran immigrants who were arriving in the United States. The harsh immigration policies that followed led to the deportation of many gang members, who eventually started recruiting members in El Salvador. The country was unable to support the number of people who were being sent back, much less people who had criminal records. Salvadoran gangs grew and eventually became present throughout all of El Salvador, other parts of Central America, and even other parts of the United States. Today, they wreak havoc across the country, leading to many tragic events and the migration of many more Salvadorans who are escaping to avoid violence. 

Many people in the United States should recognize that the history behind why we receive so many migrants each year is complicated, and that the U.S. is not completely blameless for the problem. U.S. involvement has had a huge impact on foreign policy and the unfortunate circumstances that many countries like El Salvador face. Many politicians have looked down upon the conditions that El Salvador faces, with notorious ones like Donald Trump calling El Salvador and other nations “shithole countries.” And while there is a very real threat that gang members could cross the border, as many have before, many migrants are simply escaping a problem that the United States has had a huge hand in creating.