Deporting America’s Gang Culture

Mother Jones

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For an updated slideshow with more of Donna De Cesare’s photos, see “El Salvador’s Children of War.”

For more than a decade, American street gangs have been spreading to Central America and the Caribbean—a trend that has been greatly accelerated by the politics of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service. Since 1992, the INS has rounded up and deported thousands of criminal immigrants—legal and illegal alike—many to homelands they barely know.

At first glance, the policy makes perfect sense. The most visible group being deported is young gang members. Many of them here illegal, and they have broken American laws: Send them home. And so we do—to Mexico, Belize, El Salvador, Colombia, and Caribbean nations like Haiti.

But photographer Donna De Cesare has looked deeper and discovered that sweeping the gang problem across our borders is not a tidy solution. When they arrive in their narrative countries, the deportees—not a few of whom, says one expert, are “educated in the worst aspects of criminal culture in the United States”—bring a new underworld element to countries already plagued with violence and social instability. And the deportations frequently boomerang, as rootless teenagers who have been shipped to Central America or the Caribbean illegally reenter the United States.

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Deporting America’s Gang Culture

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