The arrests are the culmination of a two-month investigation targeting members of the West Park Sureños street gang carried out as part of ICE HSI's ongoing national anti-gang initiative Operation Community Shield. Under this initiative, ICE HSI partners with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies across the country to target the significant public safety threat posed by transnational street gangs.
In addition to the Santa Maria Police Department, ICE received substantial assistance with the operation from the police departments in Lompoc and Guadalupe; the Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo county sheriff's departments; the Santa Barbara District Attorney's Office; the Santa Barbara County Probation Department; California State Probation and Parole; the FBI; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The 11 men and one woman arrested as part of the enforcement action all have criminal histories, including prior arrests and convictions on charges ranging from drug and weapons violations to robbery and domestic violence. With one exception, they were taken into custody over the course of the last two days.
The exception, Jose Diaz-Diaz, was arrested Sept. 7 at his Santa Maria residence. The previously deported Mexican national, whose criminal record includes past convictions for assault with a deadly weapon and obstructing a peace officer, is being prosecuted for re-entry after deportation, a federal felony violation that carries a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
While Diaz-Diaz faces criminal charges, the other individuals arrested during the operation were taken into custody on administrative immigration violations. They will be detained by ICE and scheduled for a deportation hearing before an immigration judge.
"This operation shows our shared resolve to fight back against the street gangs that are threatening our neighborhoods," said David Wales, resident agent in charge of the ICE HSI Office that oversees the agency's operations in Santa Barbara County. "For too long, street gangs here and elsewhere have used violence and intimidation to hold communities hostage to fear. As this operation makes clear, now it's the gang members who should be afraid."
"I want to express my appreciation to all of the agencies involved in this operation, particularly Homeland Security Investigations," said Santa Maria Chief of Police Danny Macagni. "By pooling our resources, intelligence and expertise, we've taken a number of dangerous individuals off of our streets and helped make this a safer environment for everyone."
Since Operation Community Shield began in February 2005, ICE agents have arrested more than 18,900 gang members and gang associates nationwide. That figure includes nearly 400 individuals arrested this fiscal year alone in the seven-county ICE HSI jurisdiction that encompasses the Santa Maria area.
Under Operation Community Shield, ICE HSI is using its powerful immigration and customs authorities in a coordinated, national campaign against criminal street gangs across the country. As part of the effort, HSI's National Gang Unit identifies violent street gangs and develops intelligence on their membership, associates, criminal activities and international movements to deter, disrupt and dismantle gang operations.
Transnational street gangs have significant numbers of foreign-born members and are frequently involved in human and contraband smuggling, immigration violations and other crimes with a connection to the border.
To report suspicious activity, call ICE's 24-hour toll-free hotline at: 1-866-347-2423 or visit www.ice.gov.