An 18-year-old who claims to be a former member of the feared Latin mafia MS-13 has backed President Trump’s controversial claim that the migrant caravan contains gangsters and criminals.
Trump's faced a barrage of criticism for insisting that the brutal Central American street gang’s operatives are embedded in the sprawling human convoy.
However the 18-year-old, an orphan who says he was lured into the gang at 16, told DailyMail.com he knows of at least 10 of his former MS-13 cohorts who are hiding out in the mass of disheveled migrants marching north through Mexico.
‘I don’t agree with anything Donald Trump stands for but on this occasion the President's right,’ he warned. ‘People who deny there's criminals in the caravan are being naive. MS-13 are everywhere – they contaminate everything.’
The teen, who asked to be referred to by the street name ‘Pepito’ for fear of reprisals, said the majority of his former associates were trying to leave the gang life behind and turn their backs on violence.
However he warned that MS-13 bosses treat deserters as enemies and will have operatives mingling with the crowds to try to spot them.
He explained: ‘My brother's still in MS-13 and he told me they have contacts looking for people right now in the caravan.
‘It’s a big deal if you try to leave. They can come after you and they can take your life for this.’
MS-13's regarded as the most dangerous and prevalent street gang in Central America and has been implicated in a string of recent killings in the US.
Pepito said he joined at age 16 after growing up in an orphanage in the city of Usulután, El Salvador that's plagued by poverty and gang violence.
He ran errands and delivered backpacks full of drugs and weapons but decided he wanted to leave after bosses insisted he take part in brutal fights with rival gang, Mara 18.
‘They were really nice to me, they gave me money. They started to ask me to do them favors but you never really had a choice,’ he explained.
‘They beat people up and you had to join in. They made me drive them around with big machine guns.
‘If you passed a member of Mara 18 in the street you were expected to kill them.’
Pepito decided to flee El Salvador when 2 of his best friends were shot dead. He traveled though Guatemala before rafting across the Suchiate River on August 23 — the same location where the migrant caravan poured into Mexico on Saturday.
Pepito was detained for a month at an immigration center in Tapachula, 10 miles north of the border, when he handed himself in and asked for asylum.
He was eventually issued with papers giving him 45 days to leave Mexico or apply for permanent refugees status.
While the teen decided to stay and seek permission to work in Mexico, he said many of the former MS-13 associates he met in Tapachula decided to join the caravan.
‘A bunch of people from MS-13 joined the previous caravan in April,’ he said. ‘Most of them ended up staying in Mexico. They robbed, they stole, some of them defected to other gangs.
‘When I was in the detention center I heard many people talking about joining the next caravan.
‘They said it was the best way to get to the US without being singled out and arrested by the police.
‘I decided not to go with them because I want to try to stay in Mexico legally — but I know of at least 10 people who did.’
DailyMail.com was able to reach out to one of the individuals described as a recently active MS-13 gang member who's currently travelling with the caravan. He hung up the phone without responding to questions.
‘Of course they won't admit to you that they've been in gangs,’ added Pepito. ‘The bosses will kill them if they find them.
‘Most of them are going to the US for the right reasons, they want to start new lives. But it won’t be easy for them because MS-13 have people everywhere.
‘I have to be just as careful in Mexico because Mara 18 control Tapachula. If they learn who I am they'll kill me.’
The migrant caravan formed in Honduras on October 12 when it was erroneously reported on local TV that a radio host, Bartolo Fuentes, was willing to pay transportation costs for anyone travelling to the US.
Around 150 migrants set off from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula and by the time they crossed into Mexico 1 week later the column had swollen to 7,200 participants.
Supporters say the migrants are fleeing persecution and banding together so they're not preyed upon by gangs.
But in a series of tweets and media interviews this past week, President Trump has maintained the convoy contains ‘criminals and unknown Middle Easterners’ that pose a terror threat.
The President plans to ‘send as many troops as necessary’ to the US border to dispel what he describes as an ‘assault’.
‘Go into the middle of the caravan. Take your cameras and search, okay?’ he urged skeptical reporters Monday.
‘Go into the middle and search. You’re going to find MS-13. You’re going to find Middle Eastern[ers].
‘You’re going to find everything. And guess what? We’re not allowing them in our country. We want safety. We want safety.’
To date, however, not a single news organization has reported seeing someone of Middle Eastern description in the migrant caravan.
Alt-right websites have seized upon a report from a Univision journalist who told viewers Saturday that a number of Bangladeshi nationals were detained crossing the El Carmen bridge at the Mexico-Guatemala border.
DailyMail.com can reveal there's a small South Asian community in Tapachula with a handful of restaurants and hotels catering for migrants from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
But Juliano Dallagon, 37, the manager of a budget city center restaurant popular with migrants, said: ‘It’s not unusual for Asians and Africans to come through this city to travel to the US.
‘It’s cheaper to fly into South America. Tapachula's the logical place to enter Mexico.
‘India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Congo, Somalia, Cameroon — I serve people from every corner of the world.
‘But nobody wears robes or religious clothes, they just look poor. Terrorists are well financed, they have money for weapons and bombs. They don’t need to walk across continents.’
DailyMail.com contacted Mexico’s Instituto Nacional De Migracion, which operates the immigration facility in Tapachula, to ask for a breakdown of the nationalities detained during Saturday’s mass crossing. Authorities have yet to respond.
Migrants seen leaving the facility this week told us they had encountered dozens of nationalities inside but nobody who had come from the caravan.
Otoniel Hooking, a 26-year-old Nicaraguan who was detained for 2 months before being granted temporary asylum, said: ‘There's some bad people in there and a lot of MS-13 members.
‘I met a guy from Iraq who told me he killed 7 people. I wouldn’t want him in my country either but he came here before the caravan arrived, he's nothing to do with the Honduran migrants.’