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Transnational Gangs

BEST members arrest suspected gang member with ties to Mexican drug cartel

EL PASO, Texas - An active member of a Mexican drug cartel remains in federal custody after members of the Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) arrested him this week.

BEST, an initiative established and led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), arrested Enrique Zavala-Zavala on Feb. 8 at a residence in Tornillo, Texas. Zavala-Zavala, 23, was arrested for being in the country illegally after having been previously arrested for the same offense and returned to Mexico.

Zavala-Zavala is a suspected gang member associated with the Sinaloa drug cartel in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The BEST investigation revealed that Zavala-Zavala's criminal record includes an arrest by Mexican authorities for causing serious bodily injury and attempted murder.

On Feb. 8, BEST members encountered Zavala-Zavala outside a residence. Zavala-Zavala fled after agents approached him and identified themselves as immigration officers. They arrested him after a brief foot pursuit.

"This arrest exemplifies the work BEST teams were formed to do," said Manuel Oyola-Torres, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in El Paso. "They identify, arrest, prosecute and remove illegal aliens with ties to criminal organizations responsible for the dramatic surge in border crime and violence."

Zavala-Zavala had his first court appearance Feb. 9, and is scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 19 in federal court.

BEST is a U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and ICE-led initiative that operates along the U.S.-Mexico border. BEST in El Paso was formed in October 2006, and is one of 17 such teams nationwide. ICE is charged with enforcing a wide array of immigration and customs laws, including those related to securing the border and combating criminal smuggling.

El Paso's BEST member agencies include: ICE; U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Office of Border Patrol and Office of Field Operations; the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); the U.S. Department of State; the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); the El Paso County Sheriff's Office; the El Paso Police Department, and the U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Texas.

BEST members are collocated so that they can effectively share information. Close coordination among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies helps to identify and eliminate cross-border criminal organizations such as alien smuggling networks and the infrastructures that sustain them.

In the course of its work, BEST develops information that helps it identify "drop houses," warehouses and hotels known or suspected to harbor illegal aliens and narcotics in the area. Since it was formed, the El Paso BEST team has identified several alien and narcotic smuggling organizations with ties to violent prison and street gangs on both sides of the border.