SANTA CRUZ, Calif. — A Salvadoran national suspected of being a high-ranking member of a local clique of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) street gang is facing federal immigration charges following his arrest here by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Santa Cruz Police Department.
Jose Abrego-Galdamez, 30, is named in a criminal complaint charging him with re-entry after deportation and is expected to make his initial appearance in federal court Thursday. Abrego-Galdamez was taken into custody Friday by ICE agents and investigators assigned to the Santa Cruz Police Department. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, Abrego-Galdamez has been deported from the United States three times in the last eight years, most recently in 2005. The case affidavit states that Abrego-Galdamez told officers he was initiated into MS-13 while in El Salvador and has the letters "M" and "S" tattooed on his right and left shoulder.
Abrego-Galdamez's arrest comes less than a month after the Santa Cruz Police Department announced it would begin collaborating with ICE to identify and arrest violent street gang members in the area. The effort is being carried out as part of Operation Community Shield, an ongoing initiative under which ICE partners with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies nationwide to target the significant public safety threat posed by transnational street gangs.
"Within weeks our partnership with ICE has yielded significant results," said Police Chief Howard Skerry. "Together we have taken a documented gang member off of our streets and are confident this is a sign of future successes. We want to send an unequivocal message that we will continue to bring forth every available resource to quell the gang violence plaguing our community."
ICE's partnerships with local law enforcement agencies are essential to the continued success of Operation Community Shield. Under this initiative, ICE is using its powerful immigration and customs authorities in a coordinated, national campaign against criminal street gangs in the United States. 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.
In the first six months of this fiscal year, ICE agents in northern California have arrested 117 gang members and gang associates, including 18 members of MS-13. In fiscal year 2009, northern California ICE agents arrested 343 gang members and gang associates, including 59 MS-13 gang members.
Nationwide, since ICE launched Operation Community Shield in February 2005, more than 15,600 gang members belonging to more than 900 different gangs have been arrested. More information on on ICE's National Gang Unit is available at: www.ice.gov.