YUMA, Ariz. - A major component of the Trump Administration is to crack down on the violent MS-13 gang.
"It is the policy of this administration to dismantle, decimate, and eradicate MS-13," President Trump said last summer in front of law enforcement in Long Island, N.Y.
President Trump brought up MS-13 again in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, sharing stories of two teen girls who were murdered by MS-13 gang members.
“These two precious girls were brutally murdered while walking together in their hometown. Six members of the savage MS-13 gang have been charged with Kayla and Nisa’s murders," Trump said as those girl's families wept in the crowd.
There have been stepped up efforts to eliminate MS-13 nationwide. Last November, "Operation Raging Bull" was led by ICE's Homeland Security Investigation that saw arrests of over 200 MS-13 gang members.
Illegal crossings made by MS-13 gang members aren't new as we've seen several arrests of MS-13 gang members near our border.
Border Patrol has made several MS-13 arrests along our U.S.-Mexico border over the last several months. The law enforcement agency has found that these gang members also have extensive criminal backgrounds that include robbery, felony assault, and false claims to U.S. citizenship.
One retired Border Patrol Agent, Joe Preciado, who worked with the United States Border Patrol for 25 years, knows MS-13 all too well.
He's seen first-hand MS-13 gang members coming through our region.
"We started seeing a lot more gang members coming through the border here in Yuma, Ariz.," Preciado added.
Preciado started targeting illegal immigrants with gang affiliations back in 1998. He noticed an increase of MS-13 at our borders back in 2005.
From there, Preciado went to El Salvador with the FBI to teach with the International Law Enforcement Academy in San Salvador.
“I was able to work down in San Salvador with the U.S. Border Patrol at that time...there what we would do is basically train officers from the Caribbean, Central America, and Latin American countries on what was coming back to their country by way of deportation,” Preciado said.
Those deported gang members would go back to their country to try to recruit. Their target: vulnerable school children.
“So a lot of these kids that really don’t have a chance fall into this pit of being a gang member and these folks are really are trying to keep these kids out that lifestyle,” Preciado said about his first-hand experience.
That's not all Preciado saw.
“Extortion, strong armed robbery, the rapes, the prostitution for gain, all this stuff is being done here in the United States by other gang members, they’re just learning as they’re here and taking it back,” he added.
Preciado came back to Yuma to teach Yuma Sector Border Patrol on the appropriate skills needed when face-to-face with a gang member.
“All these things, all these tools that you’re able to have during the interview process is going to help you make you that much better of an agent,” he said.
Those tools include how to identify a MS-13 gang member. The most notable: their tattoos.
"After they earn that "MS", you see the pitchforks basically, and the name of the pitchforks is "La Garra" and that is something we teach the agents to look for because if you come across a guy tatted on his back "MS-13" you know you're working with somebody who has influence in the gang," Precaido added.
Residents in the desert southwest don't have to worry too much, however, Preciado said members are using the border here as an avenue to pass through.
"They're just trying to get back to L.A.," he added.
Preciado said these tools allow Yuma Border Patrol to do its part in the fight against MS-13.
"They're being very proactive on having these agents being educated on gang members," he said.
We also reached out to current Yuma Sector Border Patrol, and they released a statement that they are dedicated to secure the border and will protect the United States from those who seek to do us harm.