PHOENIX - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested nearly 40 gang members and gang associates here in the Phoenix area over the last four months as part of a far-reaching law enforcement operation by ICE that resulted in 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. Locally, the Phoenix Police Department played a key role in helping agents identify and locate possible foreign-born gang members and associates.
"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.
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 Phoenix area were:
- Joaquin Pillado-Penuelas, a Mexican national and documented member of the Wetback Power 31st Avenue street gang, was convicted in 2003 for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Pillado also has a prior felony conviction for forgery. ICE is seeking prosecution for illegal re-entry into the United States, a felony that carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
- Rosalio Guzman-Perez, a Mexican national and documented member of the Surenos 13 street gang. Guzman is currently serving a two-year prison sentence with the Arizona Department of Corrections following a March conviction for second degree burglary. ICE is seeking prosecution of Guzman for illegal re-entry into the United States, a felony that carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
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.
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.