In the 1980s

Mexican migrants from Southern California formed the Barrio 18 group in the 1960s. The group got organized into the Mara-18 in the 1980s in Los Angeles.

Teens were adopting hip hop culture. The underground urban movement was based on small groups of teens who formed crews to rap, spray paint graffiti and break dance together. They gave each other short nicknames. Baggy jeans, over sized jerseys and baseball caps were part of the style.

The gang divides into "cliques" – the groups that control MS-18 territory in countries, states, cities and neighborhoods. The "cliques" leaders are known as "shot-callers" and order murder-for hire jobs and organize drug sales.

Joining the ranks were more Central Americans, who were fleeing from political left-right armed conflicts and the lack of infrastructure and poverty.Since its inception the gang's culture focuses more on profit maximization than on fighting rivalry.

In the 1990s

Once they graduated from high school the undocumented kids had limited opportunities. Those who had once joined gangs for protection from African-American gangs grew up to become career criminals.

FBI agents took down M-18 leaders, but that did not weaken the gang. The leaders ran the operation from within prison's walls.

The violence between African Americans, MS and M-18 escalated. The two Latin American gangs aligned with the Mexican Mafia gang. The Mexican’s "Sureño" group.

For years there has been in competition with the MS gang for work with the Mexican Zetas and Sinaloa drug cartels. The powerful network began to cause bloodshed in Central American in the late 1990s.

In 1996, undocumented migrants sentenced to a year or more in prison began to be repatriated to their countries of origin. Foreign-born felons could also be stripped of their citizenship and expelled after serving prison terms.

In the 2000s

The Clinton administration used immigration policy to fight gangs. From 2000 to 2004, thousands of convicted gang members were deported to the Central American poverty-stricken area known as the Northern Triangle -- El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

When gang members were arrested and deported, their link to the gangs offered a sense of family.

Authorities in the Central American countries were unaware of the convict’s criminal history and were unprepared to help them integrate to society. In most cases, the convicts had moved to the U.S. as toddlers. They did not speak Spanish and did not have close relatives. Soon enough, they returned to their old ways and found strength in numbers.

With deportation, the U.S. exported the Los Angeles rivalry between two gangs -- Barrio 18 and MS13. The homicide rate escalated. Northern Triangle leaders began to flood their prisons with gang members.

The “iron fist” legal policies put people in prison just for having gang tattoos and wearing baggy clothes.The Honduran prison system swelled beyond capacity and prison riots exploded in 2003 and 2004.

In 2009, gang members kidnapped and killed Honduran soccer player Wilson Palacio’s 16-year-old brother.

May 28, 2013: The Roman Catholic Bishop Romulo Emilian helped to broker a deal among the gangs. Gang leaders asked the government for support with craft workshops and to turn the prisons into rehabilitation centers. Authorities did not respond.

In Honduras, the gang has a strong presence and makes headlines regularly. During the first week of August, one of the shootings left eight people dead when seven armed gang members opened fire at a crowd. 

The U.S. Justice Department task force continues to exchange intelligence and training with their counterparts in Central America to disrupt the gang's activities. Immigration authorities continue their aggressive efforts to deport convicted criminals and gang members.

DOCUMENT: Download 2014 Congressional report on gangs in Central America

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