Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


International Relations

Reader 1

Roderic Camp

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© 2015 Isabel M Skilton


The Northern Triangle area made up by El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras faces a growing gang phenomenon responsible for the growth of violence and instability in the region. Many factors have contributed to the rise of gangs in the region, however, I argue that the deportation of Central American immigrants who became active gang members in the United States play a significant role in the growth of gangs. I analyze the impact of the lack of collaboration between the United States and the nations of the Northern Triangle, especially in the lack of reintegration programs and the other factors that could have influenced or spurred the escalation of gang activity such as a failed recovery process following the civil wars of the 1970s and 1980s and the state repression policies. Furthermore, I assess how the lack of collaboration between the United States and Northern Triangle region in the deportation of criminal immigrants has impacted the transnationalization of the two largest Central American gangs, Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18. Due to the lack of quantitative data on gang size and membership, I conduct my analysis utilizing various studies that have been conducted in the three nations and data regarding homicide and deportation rates. Ultimately, I find that while the U.S. deportees played an important role in altering the characteristics and nature of Central American gangs, a variety of other factors were significant in their growth. Additionally, I find their assignation as Transnational Criminal Organizations premature and inconclusive due to their weak organizational and communication structure. Finally, I question whether gangs are truly the cause of high levels of violence in each of the nations of the Northern Triangle, determining that the Central American gang phenomenon cannot be assessed or treated as a singular issue. Instead, it is imperative to acknowledge the conditions at play in each country.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.