LOS ANGELES - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested nearly 2,000 gang members and gang associates in the Los Angeles area in 2008 as part of the agency's ongoing national anti-gang effort known as Operation Community Shield.
Of the 1,970 gang members taken into custody here by ICE in the last year, more than 850 were prosecuted criminally on state or federal charges, ranging from re-entry after deportation to weapons violations. The remaining targets were foreign national gang members who were arrested on administrative immigration violations and placed in deportation proceedings. The statistics include ICE gang arrests in seven Southland counties - Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.
ICE attributes the agency's rising local gang arrests to several factors, among them the expanded screening of criminal aliens incarcerated in area jails and ICE's increased cooperative efforts with local law enforcement agencies to attack and dismantle transnational streets gangs.
Targeting gang members is a priority for ICE's two primary enforcement divisions, the Office of Investigations and the Office of Detention and Removal Operations. As its name implies, the Office of Investigations conducts criminal investigations into ongoing gang activity while the Office of Detention and Removal Operations focuses on identifying deportable gang members in the area's jails and proactively tracking down fugitive gang members who have ignored court orders of deportation and continue to menace the community.
"These arrest statistics are further proof of ICE's major role in combating gang-related crime in Los Angeles," said Robert Schoch, special agent in charge for the ICE Office of Investigations in Los Angeles. "Our immigration and customs authorities are proving to be powerful weapons in this effort and we'll continue working closely with local law enforcement to attack and dismantle the gangs that have terrorized our communities. Now, it's the gang members who have something to fear."
Recently, an ICE investigation led to the arrest of a 30-year-old Salvadoran national with ties to the Westside Criminals street gang who had been previously deported from the United States. Wilmar âSmileyâ Alberto was taken into custody by ICE agents during a traffic stop in the Rampart section of Los Angeles in November. A subsequent search of the convicted robber's residence turned up an unregistered .38 caliber revolver and 12 rounds of hollow point ammunition. Alberto was charged with re-entry after deportation and is in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service awaiting further court proceedings.
Another gang member now facing prosecution as a result of ICE's efforts is a previously deported Mexican national with ties to the Westside Dukes whose criminal record includes prior convictions for second degree robbery and voluntary manslaughter involving the fatal stabbing of a rival gang member. Heriberto Ramos-Moreno, 41, was turned over to ICE in mid-October upon his release from the Orange County Jail, where he had been detained on charges of obstructing an officer. Like Alberto, Ramos is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorneyâs Office for re-entry after deportation, a felony that carries a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
"Using criminal prosecutions and deportations, we're taking dangerous gang members off the street and disrupting the cycle of gang violence," said Brian DeMore, field office director for ICE's Office of Detention and Removal Operations in Los Angeles. "In cases where gang members are in the United States illegally, we not only remove them from the community, we seek to remove them from the country."
As part of Operation Community Shield, ICE works with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to target transnational street gangs. 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 connection to the border.
Since Operation Community Shield was launched in 2005, ICE has arrested more than 11,850 gang members and associates nationwide and seized more than 450 firearms. Of those arrested, 145 were gang leaders.