President Donald Trump recently claimed that in the five months he’s been in office, his administration has deported about half of MS-13 gang members, one of the largest criminal organizations in the United States around since the 1980s.
Trump singled out enforcement efforts against the MS-13 gang during an immigration roundtable discussion on two House bills written to withhold funds from jurisdictions that shield immigrants and to impose stricter penalties for criminal immigrants who re-enter the country.
MS-13 gang members are “bad people, and we’ve gotten many of them out already. You know, we’re pretty much at the 50 percent mark,” Trump said June 28. “We’re getting them out as fast as we can get them out, and we’re freeing up towns.”
Trump’s comment caught our attention since this is one of the most notorious gangs in the country. Is he halfway there in deporting thousands of MS-13 gang members?
There’s an estimated 10,000 MS-13 gang members in the United States. The latest data shows immigration officials have deported 2,798 gang members in fiscal year 2017 — that’s members of all gangs and includes several months when former President Barack Obama was in office.
MS-13 in the United States
Trump’s June 28 remarks weren’t the first he’s made about MS-13 and his administration’s efforts against them. At a rally this month in Iowa, he told supporters his administration was “moving them out of the country by the thousands.”
In April, he falsely tweeted that Obama’s policies allowed MS-13 to form across the United States, and again that his administration was removing them fast. But multiple experts told us there is no evidence Obama’s policies caused the gang’s growth in the country.
MS-13 grew out of poor Los Angeles neighborhoods where many refugees from civil wars in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua lived in the 1980s.
It’s grown into an international criminal organization with more than 30,000 members worldwide, the Justice Department said in an April 18, 2017, fact sheet.
It’s difficult to peg down exactly how many MS-13 gang members there are in the United States.
MS-13 deportations under Trump
We asked the White House for evidence backing Trump’s claim, but did not get an on-the-record response.
A specific number of MS-13 gang members deported is not available because officials don’t track removals by specific gang, Dani Bennett, spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement previously told us. (The FBI says there’s around 33,000 violent street gangs, motorcycle gangs, and prison gangs criminally active in the U.S. and Puerto Rico — with an estimated 1.4 million members.)
But ICE “does specifically target MS-13 members for arrest and removal on the basis of their immigration violations,” Bennett said, adding that deportations include foreign fugitives wanted for crimes committed abroad and who are removable under U.S. immigration law.
So far in fiscal year 2017, ICE said it has removed 2,798 gang members.
Even if all of them were MS-13 gang members, that would still be short of Trump’s claim that “we’re pretty much at the 50 percent mark” — since the Justice Department in April said there’s an estimated 10,000 gang members in the country.
Also, fiscal year 2017 started Oct. 1, 2016, when Obama was still in office.
Trump said, “We’re pretty much at the 50 percent mark” on deportations of MS-13 gang members.
Trump’s Justice Department has said there’s an estimated 10,000 MS-13 gang members in the United States.
The latest available data from ICE shows 2,798 gang members have been removed in fiscal year 2017. But that includes members of all gangs, not just MS-13. Even if all were MS-13, that would not be half of the estimated 10,000 MS-13 gang members in the country. And fiscal year 2017 includes more than three months that Obama was in office.
Trump’s statement is not accurate. We rate it False.