SALT LAKE CITY - A total of 42 foreign nationals are facing federal and state criminal charges or deportation following a week-long, multi-agency enforcement operation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) targeting violent street gangs in the greater Salt Lake City area.
The arrests, which began last Monday and concluded Saturday, cap one of the largest gang enforcement actions carried out in Utah so far, as part of ICE's Operation Community Shield. ICE agents, aided by the Salt Lake City and Midvale police departments, the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office, the U.S. Marshal's Service , the FBI, the U.S. Attorney, and the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, fanned out across the greater Salt Lake City area searching for foreign national gang members and their associates.
"This operation demonstrates ICE's commitment to protecting our communities from the escalating public safety threats linked to gang activities," said Jonathan Lines, assistant special agent in charge for the ICE office of investigations in Salt Lake City. "Gang members are not welcome in Utah and ICE will do everything possible to make sure that transnational gangs do not become entrenched in our communities. Working with our law enforcement partners, ICE will use all our enforcement tools to find, prosecute and deport them."
During last week's operation, ICE agents arrested 42 male gang members or gang associates. Of those, 22 will face criminal charges before being processed for deportation. Ten are being prosecuted federally for re-entry after deportation, one is being charged federally with illegal possession of a firearm, and 11 will face state-related charges for drug offenses, including burglary, domestic violence, assault with a deadly weapon, and violation of a gang injunction.
Five of the previously deported aliens had prior convictions for drug offenses and violent crimes. They are now facing federal charges for re-entry after deportation, a felony that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
The remaining individuals were arrested on administrative immigration violations. They will be held in ICE custody pending a deportation hearing before an immigration judge. This group includes a gang leader who was actively recruiting other individuals - many of them juveniles - to be members of the gang.
The majority of those arrested during the operation were citizens of Mexico, but the group also included foreign nationals from El Salvador (3), Guatemala (1) and Honduras (1).
Operation Community Shield is an ongoing nationwide initiative in which ICE is partnering with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to address the public safety threat posed by transnational gangs. The strategy uses criminal prosecutions and administrative immigration arrests to disrupt gang activity and dismantle the organizations. Since Operation Community Shield was launched in February 2005, ICE agents nationwide have arrested nearly 9,600 gang members and associates. Locally, ICE agents in Salt Lake City have made more than 115 arrests tied to violent street gangs and seized dangerous weapons and narcotics from the organizations.
Prior to the Salt Lake City enforcement action, ICE agents arrested a total of 73 foreign national gang members in recent weeks in similar multi-agency operations in three other Utah communities - Provo (29), Ogden (28) and St. George (16).
ICE will continue to use its broad immigration authorities, both criminal and administrative, against gang members, as well as its customs authorities to target gang-related narcotics smuggling and money laundering activities. Operation Community Shield also involves strong cooperation with existing federal, state, and local anti-gang efforts.
Editor's Note: Still photographs from the Salt Lake City operation can be obtained by contacting ICE public affairs at 949-360-3096.