My name is Mrs. Katherine Hernandez and I am currently serving in the United States Navy. I am very concerned with our approach, as a country, to the war on gangs in the United States, and Central America.
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Although I know our President is looking for ways to eliminate this problem by mass deportations, I highly believe that it will increase our problems. My reason being is that we are not eliminating the problem, just handing it off to another country to deal with. We need to decrease the amount of undocumented individuals entering the United States. Once this is achieved we will start seeing a growth in the economy, and a potential reduction in the crime rate with both Central America and the United States.
When talking about the origin of gangs you need to see it from a cultural aspect, along with social, and economic. Gangs started coming about in the early 1800s, people started to look for easy ways to secure money with no limitations. They used racketeering, prostitution, and robbery. When you have a lack of education, and poverty you can see the level of violence rising up. You will see gangs exhibit dominance and power to prove their superiority. According to authors Ms Carlson and Ms. Gallagher:
A study by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops found that over 50 percent of children from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador reported that violent crime in their country of origin had influenced their decision to leave home (USCCB 2012, 7-8). About 50 percent of Honduran refugees had witnessed gun or gang-related violence, including the murder of family or friends (ibid., 8-9). Rising levels of gang membership also support the claim that widespread violence and gang activity are an underlying cause of UAC migration to the United States (Seelke 2014). Additionally, children who reach their teenage years start receiving threats and pressure to join gangs, prompting them to undertake a perilous journey at a young age with the hope of attaining long-term security.
This is a perfect example of how our approach is backfiring.
The United States began deporting gang members in the late 1900s and early 2000s back to Hispanic countries. In 2015, the United States deported over 176,968 people to Mexico, 40,695 people were deported to Honduras, 54,423 to Guatemala, and 27,180 were sent to El Salvador. Decreasing the violence in the United States had a major increase of crime in Central America. Although these numbers of deportation are high, without executing the root of the problem we will only see temporary solutions to the gang problem in the United States. We are allowing them to build another base in another country, which give them the opportunity to multiply rapidly. Once that empire is built somewhere else, they will continue to expand themselves and bring more gang members back into the United States. They will be more powerful, and harder to stop.
We are not the only country trying to combat this war on gangs. Central America has been fighting to stop the expansion of gang with little progression. El Salvador and Honduras have had long termed effects, and are still facing issues to this day. Protesting in the streets, children involved in the gangs trying to hustle tourists. The civil war in El Salvador contributed to the expansion of gangs which has permanently damaged the country. More than a decade filled with homicide, corruption in the government system, poverty and lack of education, heavily promoted a new vision for young children to search a different lifestyle.
More than one million people fled the country and immigrated to the United States (Valdez 1999). I will never forget my first experience traveling to Central America. My husband, and I, traveled to Honduras. We were young, and although my husband traveled to Honduras frequently due to his family being there, I couldn’t believe the stories he would tell me. That is until, I saw first hand the amount of corruption, poverty, lack of education, and how the gangs instilled fear throughout the entire country. As we were getting off of the plane my husband told me to take all of my jewelry off and hide it in the middle of my suitcase. The reason he told me to put it in the middle is because the security at the airport would search your suitcase to steal from you.
If you had valuables that were easy to find, then they would be gone. I couldn’t wear my jewelry because if I walked out with it on, there was a good chance that we would have been robbed. I had to turn my cell phone off, and bury it in my purse to make sure that no one could see it. What an amazing way to start our two week adventure in this country I had never been in. We met his family right outside of the airport, and he rushed me into the car while he put our bags into the back. After driving five minutes we got pulled over. I had never felt the amount of fear as I did in that moment, because at that moment, every story that my husband had every told me suddenly made me realize how serious things can get.
My palms started to sweat, as warmth spread throughout my whole body, and I hid my military identification card in my shoe.
See in Honduras, if you run into the wrong cop, or gang member pretending to be a cop, your done. All I could do was pray for the best. The person driving the car didn’t have a valid driver’s license, so the cop said that we were going to have to go to the police station. The longer we were pulled over, the more the fear set in. We managed to leave with a warning after giving the cop twenty American dollars, one of our dollars in worth 23.66 of their Lempiras. We paid off the cop.
A hours later we called a cab to take us into the city. I wasn’t allowed to bring a purse, carry money, or bring my cellphone. I had to leave my i.d., credit cards, wallet, everything. I had to wear clothes that didn’t draw attention to myself, no jewelry, watch, or anything nice. Since the gangs taxed all of the taxi drivers we had to pay a more expensive fare. Every cab driver gets taxed by the gangs to keep them safe. When we reached the pueblo, I saw young kids with no parents.
They couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old huffing a chemical in a paper bag to help them feel full. They were homeless, with no money. and no food. These are the kids the gangs target, they have children do their bidding. We would have young kids come to us to ask for money. It is hard to say no to a kid that looks like they haven’t eaten in weeks. Not only do they target the pueblo, but Roatan as well. This is the tourist area of Honduras. When they see Americans getting off of the cruise ship they try to lure them to more secluded areas in order to rob them.
Our government and Central American officials are continuing to fight on how to determine the best decision possible to dismantling the problem. With these officials fighting it is hard to determine which ones are fighting for the greater good, or their own interest. According to Wolf:
According to Wolfe, Between 2002 and 2003 the conservative governments of the affected nations launched Mano Dura [Iron Fist] plans, ostensibly to curb gang activity and murders, which at the time were attributed chiefly to these groups. The timing and content of these measures, however suggest that they pursued electoral objective rather than effective gang control.
Government corruption is flooding the Central American nations. The son of the former President of Honduras, Porfirio Lobo, plead guilty to conspiring to import cocaine into the United States. Our progression to minimizing violence in Central America cannot be accomplished since the government is tied with drug and corruption activities. Drug cartels and Mara Salvatrucha closely work together in order to maintain the distribution and transportation of drugs into the United States. We are supposedly trying to stop the problem, however, come to find out we have officials aiding the issue.
Gangs share characteristics of brotherhood, protection, power, dominance and identity. Economically, gangs greatly benefit financially by recruiting young adults who come from poor backgrounds. The main way gangs acquire money is by extortion. I find it to be a disturbing problem that the United States should feel obligated to solve. We can’t deport immigrants to their country of origin expecting that to solve the issue. We are actually creating more problems, and at the end of the day create more of a mess. We need to accept responsibility, and pursue rehabilitation programs to help reduce gang members by returning them to their old habits. We should feel that it is our moral responsibility, as a whole, to make our country safe for our children, and the future generations.
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