Skip to main content

Grad students research Central American gangs, violence in US

July 19, 2011

Research examines whether Central American gangs promote violence in the US

ASU is near completion of a study examining whether Central American gangs serve as a proxy for third-country nationals who intend to promote politically motivated violence in the United States.

Nearly three years ago, ASU’s Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety (CVPCS) was funded as part of a consortium of 14 institutions that would serve as a Center of Excellence for the Department of Homeland Security.

The consortium, BORDERS, is dedicated to the development of innovative technologies, proficient processes and effective policies that will help protect our nation’s borders, foster international trade and enhance long-term understanding of immigration determinants and dynamics. As part of the consortium, the center was funded to conduct research that examined the relationship between gangs in El Salvador and the United States.

“Our interest is in examining the threat of third-country nationals who use Mexican territory as a gateway to enter the United States, often legally, to engage in criminal activity or to commit political violence," said Charles Katz, Watts Family Director for ASU’s Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety. "Our project extends existing studies of transnational criminal gangs in Central America to anticipate methods and approaches that could be used by third-country nationals to commit politically-motivated violence in the United States.

“Graduate students were heavily involved in the research. Specifically, they have been busy collecting three types of data. First, they have been interviewing local experts in El Salvador on the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), the 18th Street gang (Barrio 18). They also interviewed more than 600 El Salvadorian deportees who were detained in U.S. immigration facilities and who were about to be deported back to El Salvador. Last, some of our graduate students interviewed active gang members in El Salvador. They made contact with several clique leaders, through a local outreach group, and these clique leaders in turn helped us recruit subjects for the study. Our graduate students interviewed about 80 El Salvadorian gang members,” Katz said.

Andrew Fox has been working on the project as a graduate research assistant for two years. “The research has allowed me to travel and to interview experts and gang members in Los Angeles and El Salvador," Fox said. "Being involved with this project has been invaluable for my academic career. As a result, I have gained real research experience, both quantitative and qualitative."

Lidia Nuno also has been involved with the study as a graduate research assistant. “Being able to participate in a research project in El Salvador and interviewing active gang members has been the best experience I have had as a graduate student," Nuno said. "I have been very fortunate to be a part of this project and have gained great experience that will stay with me throughout my educational and professional career."