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New MS-13 'Frontline' report: The gang is bad. So is Trump's response to it.

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Frontline: The Gang Crackdown. (Photo: PBS)

Given the inflammatory coverage the violent gang MS-13 receives on Fox News, which in turn disproportionately influences President Trump’s statements about immigration policy, it’s great to have the evenhanded reporting Frontline has done for its new edition titled The Gang Crackdown, premiering Tuesday on PBS. While making terrifyingly clear the horrible violence that MS-13 has inflicted upon innocent Americans, The Gang Crackdown also confirms what you might suspect: that the Trump administration policies to combat the gang’s real menace often make things more difficult for law-abiding people and has fostered racial animosity toward legal and illegal immigrants.

The hour-long documentary traces the Central American gang violence that is being exported to the U.S. in the form of MS-13, a vicious group that bullies young people into joining on the threat of death. Producer Marcela Gaviria focuses on Long Island, N.Y., which has been a particular target of gang violence and where MS-13 gang members occupy forested areas of Suffolk County. At least 25 dead bodies were found in that county in 2016, victims of gang violence, brutally killed with machetes and other weapons. Most of the dead are from local immigrant communities.

You’d think there’d be lots of concern for the victims and their families. Instead, right-wing media forces have seized upon the gang’s activities as a justification for all sorts of broad-brush, anti-immigration advocacy, calling for the deportation of people who have nothing to do with gang culture. Once Fox News talking heads like Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity started inflating the size and scope of MS-13 out of all proportion, it was only a matter of time before avid Fox News watcher Donald Trump began invoking MS-13 as being essentially synonymous with illegal immigrants.

The Gang Crackdown profiles a couple of young people who were rounded up in anti-gang efforts by local police and government ICE agents. These youths were held in high-security prisons for months with no due process, no access to their lawyers, until their cases were examined. Some were ultimately freed for lack of evidence of gang involvement. The Frontline report makes clear that the Latino population on Long Island is being doubly wronged: victimized by MS-13 but also made hesitant of going to the police for protection, out of a fear of being suspected of illegal immigration status. Thanks to Frontline for crediting us with enough intelligence to recognize the evil of MS-13 without also obliging us to become rabid anti-immigrationists. Is it any wonder that Trump’s newly released budget proposal eliminates funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting?

Frontline: The Gang Crackdown airs Tuesday on PBS. Check local listings for time.

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