While membership figures vary, the U.S. Southern Command has estimated that there are some 70,000 members in the Northern Triangle alone. Most of the recruitment efforts target young teens, with some born in the U.S. or second-generation members.

Yet David Pyrooz, associate professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder contended that while MS-13 “has always been an outlier when it comes to gang violence,” given their extensive use of “machetes, dismemberment, targeting, and other extremes (which has) made them a trophy in criminal justice,” they are “a drop in the bucket of U.S..S. gang violence.”

“I don’t mean to discount their violence. But they are responsible for a small fraction, no more than 2 percent, of gang-related homicides, and an even smaller fraction of all homicides, in the United States,” he added. “The problem with gang crackdowns is that they are temporary solutions to much bigger fundamental issues. If anything, copycat gangs that take on MS-13 symbology will emerge because the gang is perceived as the biggest and baddest, not unlike how street gangs adopt the names of organized crime and terrorist groups.”