The United States-El Salvador Extradition Treaty: A Dated Obstacle in the Transnational War against Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13)

By Lineberger, Kelly Padgett | Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, January 2011 | Go to article overview

The United States-El Salvador Extradition Treaty: A Dated Obstacle in the Transnational War against Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13)


Lineberger, Kelly Padgett, Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law


ABSTRACT

This Note discusses the dramatic proliferation of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) over the last two decades, primarily focusing on the efforts of the United States and El Salvador to bring the notorious MS-13 to justice. The United States' deportation policy in the mid-1990s and its impact on the presence of MS-13 in El Salvador and the United States set the backdrop for an analysis of the current weapons available to combat the gang's transnational threat. As the international implications of MS-13's actions expanded in the late 1990s, the United States and El Salvador began to charter a number of bilateral and multilateral law enforcement initiatives to address the issue. This Note examines how the antiquated structure and underlying substantive law of the United States-El Salvador Extradition Treaty threaten the progress made by these initiatives, evaluates the United States' current attempt to address this threat through the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, and suggests a means to overcome an additional barrier to extradition created by El Salvador's constitutional ban on life imprisonment.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. INTRODUCTION

II. HISTORY AND EXPANSION OF THE MARA SALVATRUCHA
    (MS-13)
    A. The United States' Initial Response to the
       Growing MS-13 Threat
    B. The Exportation of Los Angeles Gang
       Culture to the Streets of El Salvador
    C. El Salvador's "Firm-Hand" Approach to
       Gang Control
    D. The Strain on El Salvador's Prison System
    E. El Salvador's Deployment of Military
       Forces to Control Gang Violence
    F. The Creation and Implications of the
       North-South "Revolving Door"
    G. International Cooperation in the War
       Against MS-13

III. BARRIERS TO EXTRADITION REQUESTS FOR MS-13
     MEMBERS IN EL SALVADOR
     A. Structural Flaws in the 1911 Treaty
     B. Provisions in the El Salvador Constitution
        i. The Extradition of Salvadoran Nationals
        ii. The Death Penalty
        iii. Life Imprisonment

IV. A SOLUTION: THE UN CONVENTION AGAINST
    TRANSNATIONAL ORGANIZED CRIME AND
    STRATEGIC INTERPRETATION
    A. Evaluating the Potential for Success of
       Extradition Requests Made Pursuant to
       the UN Convention Against Transnational
       Organized Crime
    B. Overcoming the Constitutional Barriers to
       Extradition Via Strategic Interpretation

V. CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

"First is God, then your mother, then your gang. You live for God, you live for your mother, you die for your gang." (1) Brenda Paz, a former member of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), chillingly explained the gang's code to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents a short time before she was brutally stabbed to death on the banks of the Shenandoah River in Virginia. (2) After discovering that Paz turned government informant, three MS-13 members--close friends of Paz--were "tapped" by the gang's leadership to carry out her murder. (3) Paz was seventeen years old and pregnant with her first child at the time of her death. (4)

In 2008, the FBI reported that MS-13--1abeled America's most dangerous gang (5)--was operating "in at least 42 states ... and ha[d] about 6,000 to 10,000 members nationwide." (6) Currently, there are over 60,000 MS-13 members located in ten different nations, across two continents. (7) Over the last decade, law enforcement in the United States and El Salvador, recognizing the transnational threat posed by MS-13, joined forces to bring the gang to justice. This effort to control MS-13's expansion focuses largely on bilateral and multilateral initiatives to promote information sharing and enhance law enforcement training in the United States and Central America. (8) While these transnational initiatives continue to provide key weapons in the war against MS-13, the outdated and restrictive extradition treaty currently in effect between the United States and El Salvador threatens their success. …

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