Historically, local and regional street gangs have been a major problem for local police departments; however, the emergence of transnational gangs whose criminal activity takes place in more than one country has become an ever-increasing problem in the past few decades. These ruthless gangs often have sophisticated networks and exploit smuggling routes used to bring narcotics, people, and proceeds across international borders. Although members of transnational gangs can be seen operating within U.S. cities in ways akin to traditional domestic gangs, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Transnational gangs also have robust organizational leaders that typically reside outside the United States, thus extending their criminal networks and recruitment across the globe. The expanse of these networks tends to be underestimated, making it particularly difficult for law enforcement worldwide to effectively address the issue. The failure to appreciate the breadth of this criminal activity creates a perfect storm in which the gangs’ nefarious activities are frequently conducted in plain sight of communities and law enforcement, but their support structure and far-reaching tentacles go unnoticed.
One gang that epitomizes that perfect storm is La Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13). In 2012, pursuant to Executive Order 13581, the U.S. Department of Treasury designated MS-13 a Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO).