Mica Sviatschi: Making a Gangster

Feb. 26, 2019

This paper provides new evidence on how criminal skills exported from the US affect gang development in El Salvador and child migration to the US. In 1996, the US Illegal Immigration Responsibility Act drastically increased the number of criminal deportations. In particular, the members of large Salvadoran gangs that developed in Los Angeles were sent back to El Salvador. In addition to having a direct effect on violent crime, the arrival of individuals bringing criminal skills and connections generated important spillover effects on Salvadorean children that were never exposed to US neighborhoods, eventually leading to more unaccompanied minors emigrating from El Salvador to the US. Using variation in criminal deportations over time and across cohorts combined with geographical variation in the location of gang groups and their place of birth, I find that criminal deportations led to a large increase in homicide rates and gang activity such as extortion and drug trafficking as well as an increase in gang recruitment of children. In particular, I find evidence that children in their early teens when the leaders arrived are more likely to be involved in gang-related crimes and have less education when they are adults. I also find evidence that these deportations, by increasing gang violence in El Salvador, increase child migration to the US, potentially leading to more deportations. However, I find that in municipalities with stronger organizational skills and social ties in the 1980s before the deportation shocks, US gang are less likely to develop. In sum, this paper provides a new hypothesis about how gangs expanded generating spillovers to the US and how social cohesion can prevent gang development.

Making a Gangster: Exporting US Criminal Capital to El Salvador