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What is MS-13 and why were they part of Trump’s first State of the Union?

During President Trump’s first State of the Union address Tuesday, he called out members of the “savage gang” MS-13 and touted his administration’s efforts to take on the gang.

Trump even invited as attendees the parents of two teen girls — Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens — who were allegedly killed by MS-13 members in New York’s Long Island.

“These two precious girls were brutally murdered while walking together in their hometown,” Trump said during his speech. “Six members of the savage gang MS-13 have been charged with Kayla and Nisa's murders.”

What is MS-13?

MS-13 is a gang that was created in Los Angeles in the late 1980s by a group of Salvadoran refugees, The New York Times reports. The gang now has a presence across the country, with about 10,000 members.

MS-13 is no longer a group of only Salvadorans, Fox News reports. It also includes members who are Honduran, Guatemalan, Mexican and from other areas of Central and South America.

The gang operates internationally as well, CNN reports.

By 2012, MS-13 was the only gang in the U.S. to be classified by the FBI as “transnational criminal organization,” CNN reports. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts estimates that gang has as many as 30,000 members beyond U.S. borders.

In the U.S., members of the gang have been convicted and accused of everything from murder and hostage-taking to racketeering. It’s one of the largest criminal groups in the U.S. and operates in nearly every state.

Members of MS-13 are generally young people, University of Houston Sociology professor Luis Salinas told KTRK. They often wear clothing or have tattoos that reference the gang’s name.

“They're just extremely violent,” Salinas told the TV station. “They're so violent that their activities get a lot of attention. Even drug cartels hire them as their muscle.”

Why was MS-13 mentioned in the State of the Union?

Trump has promised to destroy the gang, pointing to its activities across the U.S. as a symptom of illegal immigration — and, in particular, relating MS-13 to the surge of migrants from Central America at the southern border in recent years.

“Tonight, I am calling on the Congress to finally close the deadly loopholes that have allowed MS-13, and other criminals, to break into our country,” Trump said during his address to Congress Tuesday. “We have proposed new legislation that will fix our immigration laws, and support our ICE and Border Patrol Agents, so that this cannot ever happen again.”

But the mother of one of the girls who was killed by MS-13 and who was invited to the State of the Union said she wasn’t thinking about immigration when she agreed to attend the speech as one of the president’s guests, the Times reports.

“I want him to ensure that we’re going to get the proper funding for the resources for our kids,” Evelyn Rodriguez, mother of Kayla Cuevas, told the Times before attending the speech. “I’m not here for anybody’s political gain.”

Rodriguez’s daughter was killed with a machete and baseball bat by MS-13 gang members, police said, after she had gotten into arguments with gang members online and at school, the Times reports.

“I just want what’s right to be done,” Rodriguez told the Times. “Everybody should put their political agenda aside and think about what’s going on in our country.”

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