In December 2015 the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau issued an update on “Nevada Crime and Corrections.” (pdf) What we discover from this brief table of statistics is that between 2009 and 2013 the percentage change in the number of crimes committed dropped by 4%. We had a relatively high rate of violent crimes per 100,000 persons (4th nationally) but the violent crime rate in Nevada between 2009 and 2013 declined by 16.2%, while the national violent crime rate declined by 14.8%. Somehow these numbers make the drumbeat of references to violent criminal immigrants ring a bit hollow. Street gangs are a problem, but the problem may not be as dramatic as proponents of immigration restriction infer.
The Las Vegas Sun published an article in June 2015 with the dramatic headline that there were approximately 20,000 street gang members in the Las Vegas metropolitan area. The population total for the Las Vegas area in 2015 was estimated at 2,111,000. [data] The Las Vegas economic agencies inform us that 45% of the Clark County population is white, 10.3% is African-American, and 30.9% are Hispanic/Latino, and another 9.3% are of Asian descent. However, as the Sun article suggests it’s hard to equate gang membership to immigration or ethnic status in any definitive way, because each demographic group has its own gangs.
The street gangs identified in Las Vegas tend to be associated with the old standard Crips and Bloods — the Crips having developed in Los Angeles between the mid 1960’s and 1971. The Bloods developing in response to the increasing influence of the Crips. White gangs are more difficult to track in terms of membership because they dislike calling themselves a gang, although it’s hard to differentiate their violence and drug trafficking from that of their African American cohorts. The Hispanic street gangs show a similar connection to California as those of the African American gangs.
The major group appears to be the Surenos (Southerners, as in Southern California) opposed by the Nortenos (Northerners, also from California), and their associated; added to by a Las Vegas oriented group the Barrio Naked City gang. [Sun] Notice that MS-13, the group often cited by the current President is not among these major gangs in the Las Vegas area. One reason may well be that law enforcement has depleted their leadership. [LVnow] They’ve been a target of Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice for the past two years. The most recent estimate indicates that there are about 150 MS 13 gang members in the Las Vegas area. We now enter the realm of conflation.
It is extremely difficult to definitively state that US immigration policy has a direct correlation to gang activity, especially in terms of minors and young people entering the country. DHS has been asked for statistics/data on unaccompanied minors who are found to be gang members, but did not respond (Politifact). A person who has been charged with a crime in a foreign country is not eligible for asylum in the U.S. Another issue is that the officials aren’t breaking down what is meant by “gang members or suspected gang members.” Some instances of the gang label have not been substantiated by immigration enforcement. [See the Savaria v. Sessions case. Also: ACLU, and ACLU petition pdf] If we conflated “confirmed” and “suspected” memberships then the problems associated with gangs are automatically exaggerated. [Politifact] Yet another problem with the conflation is that no one appears certain that minors who came to the US came as gang members or were recruited after they arrived. [Politifact] The Politifact article summarizes the conflation problem:
“DHS, Sessions, and Trump are trying to shift the focus of immigration enforcement to MS-13 in order to repeatedly drill in the message that immigrants are dangerous criminals,” Ahmed said.
But many gang members were born in the United States, and gangs form in conditions of marginality, which also exist in other countries, said Wolf, the researcher with CIDE in Mexico.
“There is no doubt that MS-13 has engaged in serious and heinous forms of violence, devastating families and communities. But the emphasis on immigrants as the source of the gang problem in the United States is misguided,” said David C. Pyrooz, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder, whose research includes gangs and criminal networks. [Politifact]
Of course one of the other dangers in the continual ‘calling out” of a particular (and particularly violent) gang is that public attention is diverted from gangs with larger memberships and which are homegrown.
MEANWHILE! We have a President who categorically refuses to acknowledge the dangers presented to this country by Russian interference in our political institutions and processes. Who will not acknowledge the warnings given by our CIA, FBI, and national security experts. Who will not enforce the sanctions enacted by the 115th Congress. Who would prefer we focus our attention on the 150 MS 13 gang members in Las Vegas than the KARYN Network pushing the social media “news” on behalf of Russian interests.