KOLD INVESTIGATES: Is MS-13 a problem in southern Arizona?

KOLD INVESTIGATES: MS-13 Rhetoric vs. Reality

TUCSON, AZ (KOLD News 13) - At campaign speeches and in his tweets, President Donald Trump mentions MS-13 as one of the reasons a border wall is a necessity because the situation at the border is a crisis.

At his recent State of the Union address the president said “The savage gang, MS-13...they almost all come through our southern border.”

Craig Thomas, KOLD News 13 investigated how much of an issue this gang is. Here’s what he found:

  • 12  MS-13 members arrested in the Tucson Sector in all of 2018. 
  • 55,158  total people arrested.

Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada responded to those statistics, saying "one a month - not scary. not scary at all."

Estrada has patrolled the border area for 50 years - the last 27 as sheriff. He says the talk about MS-13 and lawlessness at the border communities simply isn’t true.

“We don’t have a crisis. We don’t have a national emergency...those individuals are violent and we need to vet them and get rid of them. But it’s not like we have a surge of those gang members coming through the border.”

The numbers along the country’s entire southern border tell a similar story:

  • 377 MS-13 members arrested last year
  • 590,659 people taken into custody

We found these numbers by looking through news releases from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

CBP confirmed the accuracy of my numbers - but did not agree to an on-camera interview.

There are highly publicized incidents involving MS-13 - such as the arrest this month of an undocumented member accused of killing a rival gang member on the New York City subway.

The Justice Department’s own data shows 10,000 active members in the U.S., but that’s a small percentage of the 1.4 million gang members across the country.

Estrada feels the hype about MS-13 detracts from solving the issues of drugs and immigrant families who are coming across the border.

“What’s coming out of Washington and this administration is completely unfocused,” Estrada said. “They are really telling people lies. And the sad thing about it, as you go further inland, these lies resonate with people. They don’t really know, they don’t understand, they’ve never been along the border. So they don’t know what’s happening and they believe all these things.”

In Arizona, the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission compiles a survey from law enforcement from all over the state, and the survey says MS-13 is not on the list of 10 most active gangs.

The Tucson Police Department told us they haven’t arrested any MS-13 members in the last few years.

Copyright 2019 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.