Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has written to Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting answers about an MS-13 task force that he fears has been either scaled down or abolished entirely amid continued fears that members of the brutal gang are using the crisis at the southern border to sneak into the U.S.
The Trump-era Justice Department (DOJ) created Joint Task Force Vulcan (JTFV) in 2019 to coordinate the government approach to dismantling gangs such as MS-13 and served up a number of indictments across the country. Grassley, writing to Garland this week, found that the last press release for the task force was from just days before President Biden was inaugurated – and there hasn’t been any information since.
“As a result, the public and Congress are unsure what strategy or plan, if any, DOJ is employing to combat MS-13,” he wrote in a letter Tuesday.
MS-13, also called Mara Salvatrucha, was set up in Los Angeles by Central American immigrants and has expanded across the continent, particularly in Northern Triangle countries like El Salvador and Guatemala. It is known for its particularly horrific and gruesome crimes, and its motto is said to be “mata, viola, controla” – which means “kill, rape, control.”
Grassley noted that the number of MS-13 gang members apprehended has dropped in FY 2021, even despite the record-number of migrants flooding to the border in recent months. Grassley says that isn’t because fewer are coming, but because more are sneaking in past overwhelmed border officials.
“The obvious logical conclusion is that MS-13 members are successfully avoiding identification and sneaking past Border Patrol into the country, as agents focus their time and attention on dealing with unaccompanied children at the border or asylum seekers,” he wrote.
He pointed to remarks by Laredo Sector Chief Patrol Agent Matthew Hudak, who in May said that Border Patrol arrested five gang members in one week, including an MS-13 gang member and two members belonging to the 18th Street gang.
“They attempt to evade arrest by exploiting the influx of migrants attempting to enter our country,” he tweeted.
Grassley concluded that since MS-13 may be a bigger threat due to Border Patrol’s inability to catch those coming in, and therefore questioned the lack of updates on JTFV, which he wondered if it still exists.
“This is a problem, because we know MS-13 is still ruthlessly operating on American streets. And Congress and the American people deserve to know what the DOJ is doing to keep our streets safe, and keep us safe from dangerous criminal organizations like MS-13,” Grassley said in a speech on the Senate floor.
In his letter, he requests from the DOJ information about JTFV’s existence, its budget, how many are assigned to that task force, and who is in charge of it.
Even with the status of the task force unknown, there have still be indictments of MS-13 members. On Wednesday, the DOJ announced the charging of four MS-13 members on a conspiracy that included multiple murders, kidnapping and burglaries.
Last week, a federal grand jury indicted nine MS-13 gang members on a 60-count indictment with charges including murder, kidnapping and assault after a federal investigation led to their arrests.