Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, is a transnational criminal network that originated among Central American immigrants in Los Angeles during the gang wars of the 1980s. Since then U.S. deportation policies have transported MS-13 back to (and helped it expand in) Central America, with the strongest networks forming in the postwar countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Today a range of security officials train their efforts on a curious loophole in gang membership—Christian conversion as a way out—and by doing so open up new streams of funding and prompt a specialized cadre of ministers to apply their therapeutic skills to gangs. Relying on the promise of self-esteem, these ministers have placed the problem of MS-13 in the soul rather than on the streets, training an increasing number of eyes on atrophied wills that only the saving grace of Jesus Christ can strengthen. Gang ministry, as the effort is known, makes MS-13 the perfect problem through which to see the politics of American security anew, linking relatively mundane ministerial efforts to contemporary threads of religion and globalization, the politics of frontiers, borders and boundaries, and deportation and democratization as embodied practice.

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