In contrast, in the United States, MS-13 is a fragmented organization without a clear hierarchy. Researcher José Miguel Cruz, for instance, characterizes it as “a federation of teenage barrio cliques that share the MS-13 brand.” Without much domestic and transnational leadership, U.S. cliques compete against one another. This limits collective action, making it difficult for them to carry out large-scale criminal activities and bring in steady revenue.
In the United States, MS-13 cliques have also committed heinous homicides. However, in the United States, only 13 percent of homicides are gang-related, a far lower proportion than the 40 percent of homicides in the Northern Triangle.
More important, their crimes are on a much smaller scale. Rather than controlling whole communities, according to our interviewees, in the United States, MS-13 has focused on threatening and extorting members of the Latino community in a few areas, including the suburbs of Washington, New York, New Jersey, Boston, Houston, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area.