The Treasury Department today issued an order designating the MS-13 gang a “transnational criminal organization” of “such scope and gravity that they threaten the stability of international political and economic systems.”
That formal category was created by Executive Order 13581, issued last year; at the time, four groups were named: the Yakuza, the Camorra, Los Zetas, and an outfit I’d never heard of called variously “The Brothers’ Circle” or “The Family of Eleven.”
Today’s order – which so far I don’t have a link to – accuses MS-13 of “… drug trafficking, kidnapping, human smuggling, sex trafficking, murder, assassinations, racketeering, blackmail, and extortion.”
The legal significance of the designation is that the Executive Order extends the President’s statutory national-security powers to block the assets and transactions of hostile foreign entities to major violent criminal groups. It is now a serious crime to give or receive money or to buy or sell goods or services to anyone acting on behalf of MS-13. That criminalizes what would otherwise be routine transactions, and greatly increases the penalties for – as an important example – gun-trafficking violations. The NRA’s Congressional allies have ensured that gun-running crimes are next-to-impossible to prosecute and draw such short sentences that federal prosecutors mostly don’t bother taking them to court. Now any sort of dealing with MS-13 is good for a long stretch.
This approach is modeled after the “material support to terrorism” law. My Constitutional conscience would sleep better if Congress had explicitly authorized this by statute, but the “transnational organized crim group” designation is probably less likely to be abused than the “terrorist” designation. There are certainly some groups thta pose threats different in kind from the threats addressed by the ordinary criminal law, and MS-13 – so powerful back home that the Salvadoran government, having brokered a “truce” between it and a rival gang, is now trying to negotiate something like a peace accord between the gang and the state, and a major player in the prison-gang problem here in the U.S. – belongs high on that list.
Still, it wouldn’t do any harm to embody this set of powers in statute, rather than doing a legal three-carom shot. The powers themselves are pretty astounding – something like an organizational version of a Bill of Attainder – and they ought to be conferred explicitly if they’re going to be used in this fashion.