One of the most gruesomely memorable bits of President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday came when he introduced the parents of two teen girls from Long Island who were murdered by members of the increasingly notorious MS-13 gang.
The optics were out of a movie. The parents were in tears, with one of the fathers holding his fist to his heart. It was an emotional moment that Trump then took advantage of to scare Americans into supporting a border wall and hiring more ICE agents, saying he wanted to “make sure that other families never have to endure this pain.”
“Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as illegal, unaccompanied alien minors—and wound up in Kayla and Nisa’s high school,” Trump said during his speech, referring to the two murdered teens.
But Trump failed to mention that MS-13 is actually a gang that was born in Los Angeles in the 1980s. It only spread abroad because of the U.S. government, and experts have found scant evidence that its American branch is primarily made up of immigrants.
As the Washington Post noted in October, MS-13 was started by refugees from Central American wars—wars that were themselves profoundly affected by American intervention. The Clinton administration then tried to get rid of the gang by deporting suspected members back to unstable Central American countries. But the more members the U.S. deported, the more the gang thrived, becoming a danger both in America and abroad. In 2012, the U.S. declared MS-13 to be a “transnational criminal organization,” marking the first time a U.S. street gang was labeled that way. So if Trump wants to really pin the blame on anyone for MS-13, he can pin it on the American government.
Trump said he wanted to hire more ICE agents to help with MS-13. But deporting gang members obviously has not helped. If he wants to do anything to curtail new membership he would be better off funding education and gang prevention programs, which actually have a better track record of helping keep people from joining gangs.