PHOENIX, Arizona - U.S. authorities say members of a violent Mexican gang are using the Arizona border as a corridor into the country on their way to California and the East Coast.
In the past year, Border Patrol agents have arrested about 10 members of Mara Salvatrucha - a notorious street gang in Mexico. Yet, according to federal and local law enforcement officials in Phoenix, Maricopa County, Tucson and Yuma, gang members don't seem to be living in the state.
"On the whole, out of 491,000 arrests, it's probably a small number," said Rob Griffin, a spokesman for the Border Patrol's Tucson sector. "But anytime you have a gang member that's active, it's going to be a concern. These guys are extremely violent; their MO is violence."
The gang, commonly known as MS-13, has been linked to murders from Honduras to Los Angeles to Virginia.
"Everybody here we've encountered, without exception, is headed to Los Angeles or the East Coast," said Joe Brigman, a spokesman for the Border Patrol in Yuma.
At the start of the last month's Minuteman Project, rumors circulated that MS-13 planned to confront members of the civilian volunteer border patrol group. The threat never materialized.
The original Mara Salvatrucha members were street gang guerrilla fighters who fled the Salvadoran civil war in the 1980s. Refugees who reached the United States, including some with ties to "La Mara," a violent street gang from El Salvador, settled primarily in Southern California and Washington, D.C., often in areas controlled by established gangs.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say the organization has been linked to people smuggling, drug trafficking, arms smuggling, gang violence and murder.
Members often have tattoos on their faces and upper bodies, typically including the number 13.
Sgt. Paul Ferrero, a Phoenix police gang unit supervisor, said Phoenix is not a fertile ground for Mara Salvatrucha members, citing a relatively small population of Central Americans compared with other large cities and active Mexican-American gangs.
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