There is no doubt that gang-related violence has made headlines for many years, but recent activity has brought these events closer to home. A recent Washington Times article revealed a possible relationship between leaders of the violent Salvadoran criminal gang Mara Salvatrucha or MS 13 and a key al Qaeda cell leader. MS 13 is deeply rooted in Mexico and is notorious for drug and alien trafficking across the U.S.-Mexico border. According to the article, law enforcement authorities said the terrorist leader was looking for help from MS 13 in moving people across the border illegally. MS 13 has a significant presence in Northern Virginia and is responsible for several violent crimes in the Shenandoah Valley.
Gang-related violence has been on the rise across the nation and Congress has responded by allocating funding to thwart the spread of gang-related activities including drug trafficking and violence. On November 20, Congress approved $3 million for the Commonwealth of Virginia to help localities coordinate anti-gang programs. The omnibus spending bill also includes $175,000 to fund continuing RUSH Drug Task Force efforts to stem methamphetamine production and distribution in the Valley. The Task Force has played a significant role in disrupting several large national drug distribution rings.
Additional anti-gang efforts in the Shenandoah Valley include establishment of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office, which works largely to combat the growing criminal alien population, as well as gang-related activity, a new United States Magistrate to hear federal charges, and additional U.S. Marshals. As the population of the Shenandoah Valley steadily increases, so does the caseload of federal criminal offences. Previously, federal law enforcement officers in the northern Shenandoah Valley spent an inordinate amount of time and money traveling to Charlottesville which housed the nearest United States Attorney's branch office and the closest federal courthouse. The new Harrisonburg Magistrate will help decrease the large case load at the local courts and eliminate unnecessary time and costs previously associated with processing federal charges. Additionally, four full-time U.S. Marshals were assigned to the District Court in Harrisonburg to increase the presence of federal law enforcement.
Problems with violent organized gangs are not limited to the Shenandoah Valley and can also be found in the Lynchburg and Roanoke areas.
Law enforcement officials in the 6th district have made valiant efforts in fighting gang activity and I applaud their continued efforts. However, gang violence cannot be stopped by law enforcement alone. Young people are often the targets of gang recruiters who offer false promises of infamy in return for carrying out acts of violence such as rapes, murders and drug trafficking on behalf of the gang. By encouraging our children to engage in healthy, fulfilling activities such as sports, academic programs, and community activities we can help deny gangs new members. We must remain resolute and work together on the local and national level to curb the expansion of gangs in America.