Recruitment of wealthy and middle-class teenagers attending private schools into the Mara Salvatrucha gang; whether teenagers who refuse to join the gang are asked to get a tattoo saying "MS" (1999-2002) [SLV40566.E]

A professor of journalism at the University of Texas who is an expert on gangs in Central America provided the following opinion about the Mara Salvatrucha gang in El Salvador.

In a 27 November 2002 telephone interview, the professor stated that, based on her experience with the Mara Salvatrucha gang, she "was very doubtful" that the gang would try to recruit new members from private schools. The professor added that, because private schools are "very protected" and "have lots of security," it would be difficult for gang members to establish contact. That being said, she acknowledged the possibility of middle or upper-class youth intermingling with gang members at "raves" or parties.

In regard to tattoos, the professor stated that they are part of a "ritualistic" process of gang membership. In other words, a person must first be accepted into the gang before getting a tattoo-this requires being initiated or "jumped in" and involves getting "beaten up" by other gang members. Moreover, the "gang members tattoo each other"; they do not go to tattoo parlours. If someone who is not a gang member did tattoo him or herself with gang insignias such as the initials, MS and was then caught by real gang members, that "person would be in 'hot water.'"

Please see the attachment from the San Francisco Examiner for information about gang influence and the Mara Salvatrucha gang in El Salvador.

Please refer to SLV33463.E of 11 January 2000 and SLV38088.E of 2 January 2002 for more information on the Mara Salvatrucha gang.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Professor of Journalism, University of Texas, Austin, Texas. 27 November 2002. Telephone interview.


San Francisco Examiner. 12 July 2002. Adrienne Sanders. "Reborn in El Salvador." [Accessed 19 Nov. 2002]

Additional Sources Consulted

An oral source from Homies Unidos would not provide information for public use.

IRB databases

World News Connection (WNC)

Internet sites:

Amnesty International

Central American Refugee Center (CARACEN)

Comision para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos en Centroamerica (CODEHUCA)

Country Reports

Derechos Human Rights

Homies Unidos

Human Rights Watch (HRW)

La Prensa Grafica [San Salvador]

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