Dean's Lecture Series on Race, Ethnicity, and Criminal Justice

The Salvadorian Willie Horton? MS-13, Crimmigration, and the Translation of Gang Intelligence

In 2012, the United States Treasury Department designated the Latin American gang Mara Salvatrucha, known as MS-13, as a transnational criminal organization with cliques and members throughout the continental United States. The criminal activities of MS-13 have contributed to political rhetoric associating undocumented status with criminality and dangerousness, despite empirical evidence that undocumented residents are generally less likely to commit a crime compared to their documented counterparts. This presentation draws from a federally-funded study on the transnational capacity of MS-13 in the U.S. and El Salvador and specifically examines the mechanisms by which the label of MS-13 has been over-extended in political discourse, contributing to an association between undocumented Latino males and dangerousness. This MS-13 label is both conceptual and technical; the former representing imagery and framing, and the latter representing specific law enforcement practices of identifying MS-13 members and gang-related activities. Contributions of the project include providing a conceptual and empirical bridge connecting crimmigration scholarship, the organizational structure of MS-13, criminal justice measurement practices, and the intersection of race and crime in political discourse.

With graduate students, Ken Leon will discuss his article, "A Culture that is Hard to Defend: Extralegal factors in federal death penalty cases" (with Jon B. Gould).  Journal of Criminal law and Criminology 107, 4 (2017): 101-42.