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MS-13 labeled transnational criminal organization. Who are the 'Maras?'

The MS-13 gang is one of many 'maras,' or street gangs, that started in the US and spread into Central America, particularly El Salvador. Here's a brief history.

By Lauren Villegran / October 24, 2012

When Salvadorans immigrated to California in large numbers beginning in the late 1970s, fleeing civil war in their homeland, many landed in Los Angeles and collided with the city's gang culture. Facing prejudice and exclusion, and following the example of the city's Mexican criminal gangs, Salvadorans and other Central Americans began to form their own street gangs, known as maras.

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In the 1990s, the United States deported Salvadoran gang members with criminal records en masse, and the gangs took root in the migrants' home country.

The Mara Salvatrucha-13 and 18th Street gangs have grown to an estimated 64,000 members in El Salvador today, according to the Security Ministry. In the US, more than 8,000 members of the MS-13 gang operate in more than 40 states and in cities from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., US authorities estimate.


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