LOS ANGELES - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested nearly 300 gang members and gang associates here in the Los Angeles area over the last four months as part of a far-reaching law enforcement operation by ICE that generated more than 1,700 arrests nationwide.
The arrests are the result of Operation Community Shield, a comprehensive initiative launched by ICE in 2005 to disrupt and dismantle transnational violent street gangs. As part of the enforcement action, which ended yesterday, ICE teamed with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to target violent street gangs and their criminal associates in 53 cities across 28 states.
During the operation, ICE agents arrested a total of 1,759 gang members, gang associates, criminals and immigration violators, including 293 subjects in the greater Los Angeles area. The Southland enforcement activities focused on targets in five area counties: Los Angeles (168); Riverside/San Bernardino (96); Orange (17) and Ventura (12). More than 70 of those arrested locally during this gang enforcement surge have prior convictions for crimes of violence and nearly 30 of those taken into custody are convicted sex offenders.
"Street gangs prey on the neighborhoods in which they operate and they instill fear through intimidation and violence," said Julie L. Myers, Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for ICE. "By partnering with other law enforcement agencies across the country, we are successfully targeting these gangs, arresting their leaders, disrupting their operations, and putting their members and associates behind bars."
Of the 1,759 individuals arrested during the public safety surge, nearly 1,500 were gang members, gang associates or individuals with prior criminal records -- including more than 30 percent with violent criminal histories and 17 gang leaders. The remaining individuals were encountered and arrested for immigration violations during the enforcement action and have been placed in removal proceedings. ICE agents arrested 730 individuals on new criminal charges ranging from attempted murder and aggravated assault to drug and firearms violations and charges of re-entering the country after deportation. More than 150 of those taken into custody locally during the operation are being prosecuted on federal or state violations.
Through Operation Community Shield, the federal government uses its powerful immigration and customs authorities in a coordinated, national campaign against criminal street gangs in the United States.
Transnational street gangs have a significant number of foreign-born members and are frequently involved in human and contraband smuggling, immigration violations and other crimes with a nexus to the border. Like any street gang, these transnational gangs also have a propensity toward violence. Their members commit a number of crimes including robbery, extortion, assault, rape and murder.
Among those arrested during the 2008 Operation Community Shield surge here in the Los Angeles area were:
- Juan Carlos "Trigger" Chavez, 36, a Mexican national and documented member of the 18th Street Gang, was taken into custody by ICE agents September 18 in Bell, Calif. He has prior convictions for firearms and battery charges as well as past arrests for carjacking and possession of narcotics. Chavez, who was formally removed from the United States in 2006, is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for re-entering the country after deportation.
- Cesar "Listo" Jimenez-Ramirez, 22, a Mexican national and suspected member of the Cudahy 13, was taken into custody by ICE agents September 8 in Bell, Calif. Jimenez has prior convictions for being a felon in possession of a firearm and grand theft. He was deported in June 2008 and returned to the United States illegally. Jimenez is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for re-entry after deportation, a felony violation that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
- Jugo Fangel Vergara, 28, a Mexican national and documented member of the La Mirada Locos, was arrested by ICE agents September 17 in Los Angeles. Vergara has prior felony convictions for assault with a deadly weapon and assault with a firearm. Vergara, who was deported in December 2006, is being prosecuted for re-entry after deportation and has been turned over to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.
Under Operation Community Shield, ICE partners with existing federal, state and local anti-gang efforts to share intelligence on gang organizations and their leadership, share resources and combine legal authorities to arrest, prosecute, imprison and/or deport transnational gang members. In addition to MS-13, targeted gangs included Surenos-13, 18th Street Gang, Latin Kings, Bloods, Crips, and Vatos Locos to name a few.
Since 2005, ICE has arrested more than 11,100 members and associates from 890 different gangs and seized 388 firearms. Of those arrested, 145 were gang leaders.
Many of those arrested under Operation Community Shield are prosecuted criminally and are eventually removed from the United States. To date, 3,997 have been charged criminally, and 7,109 have been charged with immigration violations and processed for removal.