Why I Stand With Those Trump Calls ‘MS-13 Lovers’

Trump and his enablers can feel free to call me an “MS-13 lover” because, like Nancy Pelosi, I’m prepared to say that it is never okay to call a human being an “animal.” This diatribe by the president ranks right up there with the most shameful things he has ever said:

The first thing to keep in mind is that there are mountains of information about MS-13 that Trump doesn’t want you to know—like the fact that the gang was born right here in the United States, not in Central America.

Salvadorans started arriving in the 1980s, when the Reagan administration was sending more than $1 million a day to El Salvador’s right-wing government in an effort to stamp out leftist guerrillas aligned with socialist revolutions in Cuba and Nicaragua. The 12-year civil war left 80,000 dead and more than a million displaced. In 1986, Suffolk County declared itself a place of sanctuary for Central American refugees, but by 1993, this designation had been sacked amid rising anti-immigrant sentiment…

At the same time, a backlash was brewing in Los Angeles, where a ragtag group of Salvadoran teenagers—mostly stoners and metalheads—had started calling itself the Mara Salvatrucha. The gang hardened after facing white, black, and Mexican rivals on the streets and in the prisons. By the end of the 1990s, the MS-13 had gained a reputation for savagery and had sparked copycat groups in other immigrant communities, including on Long Island, where it was declared the largest gang in Nassau County in 2001.

Here’s the truth about those communities in Long Island that Trump claims to know so well.

Long Island is home to some of the richest real estate in the country, with houses in the Hamptons regularly selling for upward of $10 million. It’s also home to the third-largest community of Salvadorans in the US, after Los Angeles and Washington, DC.

The island’s first Latino immigrants were Puerto Ricans. They flocked to Nassau and Suffolk Counties in the 1950s to tend gardens and wash dishes for white families, who were leaving New York City in large numbers. Many affluent suburbs passed housing covenants to keep blacks and Latinos out. As a result, nearby towns like Brentwood became immigrant enclaves. Over the years, white flight struck again, the tax base dwindled, and these poorer suburbs became known for their struggling schools and high crime rates.

So here’s what Trump doesn’t want you to know: rich white people were fine with bringing in immigrants from a country whose civil war was financed by the United States because they wanted “the help” to clean their toilets and tend their gardens. That was cool because the brown folks were cordoned off in areas with struggling schools and high crime rates.

Now Trump needs an issue to rile up his base and get them out to the polls in November. He wants them to equate undocumented immigrants with MS-13 gang members and be very, very afraid. Here are some numbers to keep in mind:

  1. There are roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.
  2. According to the FBI, there are 8,000-10,000 MS-13 gang members in the country, but not all of them are undocumented.
  3. Even if all MS-13 gang members were undocumented, they would represent less that .09 percent of undocumented immigrants in the country.

The truth is that I’m not actually an MS-13 lover. I support the efforts of law enforcement to hold those who have committed crimes accountable. But I also know a scam when I see one—especially when it has its roots in racism and fascism. Calling MS-13 gang members “animals” is the latest way that Trump is attempting to fear-monger support for his administration and for Republican candidates. It is an incredibly dangerous ploy that is aimed at turning this country into something many of us wouldn’t recognize as a democracy. So if standing up against that threat makes me an MS-13 lover in the minds of fascists, I say, “bring it on!”

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.