MS-13 gang member
A member of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, also known as MS-13. Reuters

MS-13 is using unconventional tactics to expand its reach into South America and Europe.

The vicious El Salvadoran gang, known for beheadings and contract killings, wants to spread its influence into countries like Chile, Peru, Argentina and Spain. And it’s getting there through deportation, according to a report from the International Assessment and Strategy Center.

“One of the primary ways of doing this is for a member to falsely declare one of those countries as his country of origin when arrested and facing deportation from the United States or elsewhere,” wrote Douglas Farah and Pamela Phillips Lum in “Central American Gangs and Transnational Criminal Organizations: The Changing Relationships in a Time of Turmoil.”

“Since gang members seldom have travel documents, authorities cannot prove an individual is not from the country he declares as his point of origin,” the report’s authors wrote. “Some of the deportations are reported to be deliberately planned as a way for a selected MS-13 member to obtain a ‘free ride’ to a specific country.”

Farah and Lum interviewed gang members for their report.

One MS-13 member said, “We have orders that some of us, if caught, declare our citizenship to be from other countries. I am ordered to ask to return to Chile. Why? Because that is an area where we want to expand. Others are to go to other countries.”

Once in the ne cowuntry, the gang member either meets up with fellow “homies” or starts up his own clique. They’re also given a stipend as compensation.

“U.S. law enforcement officials recently confirmed they have received requests for help related to new MS-13 gang structures in Chile, Peru, Spain and elsewhere,” the report found.

The expansion is possible because the gang is loosening its membership requirements. Originally, only El Salvadorans were able to join. That was later expanded to anyone living in Central America, and the criteria are becoming even less strict.

“Now, anyone who is accepted by the gang, even non-Spanish speakers, can join,” Farah and Lum wrote. “This has broadened the ability to recruit far beyond the relatively small pool of potential Salvadoran and Central American members.”

MS-13 was established out of the civil war in El Salvador in the 1980s. The war led some citizens to flee to Los Angeles, where El Salvadorans started MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha or La Mara.

The report also found that the gang’s top-level leaders are shifting from its Los Angeles power base to San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador.