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Transnational Gangs

49 arrested in ICE-led operation targeting gang members for deportation

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CHICAGO - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents here, in close partnership with local law enforcement officers, made 49 arrests in a four-day operation targeting illegal aliens with ties to violent street gangs in Chicago's northern and northwest suburbs this week. This is the latest joint local action of an ongoing national ICE effort to target foreign-born gang members.

These arrests were made under an ongoing national ICE initiative called "Operation Community Shield," in which ICE partners with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to address the significant public safety threat posed by transnational street gangs. Partnerships with local law enforcement agencies are essential to the success of the initiative, and they help further ensure officer safety during the operations.

The multi-agency operation, which began Sunday night and ended Wednesday night, targeted foreign-born gang members and associates in the northern and northwest suburbs. Of the 49 arrested, 48 are Mexican nationals; one is from Guatemala. All are illegal aliens with the exception of one U.S. permanent resident whose criminal convictions make him eligible for deportation.

Forty-seven of those arrested are members or associates of the following gangs: Brown Pride, Imperial Gangsters, Insane Deuces, Latin Kings, Norteños-14, Sureños-13, and the 18th Street Gang. Two of those arrested had no known gang affiliations but are deportable because they are in the U.S. illegally.

Nine of those arrested had been previously deported. It is a felony to re-enter the United States after being formally deported punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison.

"Street gangs pose a growing public safety threat to communities throughout this area," said Gary Hartwig, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Chicago. "We will not tolerate violent gang activity in our communities, and will use all of our law enforcement tools to thwart criminal efforts of street gangs. Operation Community Shield shows how ICE works with our law enforcement partners to dismantle these criminal organizations and help protect our communities."

ICE was assisted in the operation by the following local agencies: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); the sheriffs' departments of Cook, Boone, DuPage and Winnebago Counties; and the police departments of Addison, Belvidere, Bensenville, Elgin, Franklin Park, Harvard, Mt. Prospect, West Chicago, Wheeling and Woodstock.

One of the men arrested by ICE agents earlier this week was Valentin Sierra-Martinez, a 20-year-old "Norteño-14" gang member. Arrested July 14 in Elgin, Ill., Sierra-Martinez is an illegal alien from Mexico with prior criminal convictions for residential burglary, domestic battery, possessing drug paraphernalia, and knowingly damaging property. He remains in ICE custody pending deportation to Mexico.

ICE agents also arrested 23-year-old Mauricio Vega-Cruz July 14 in West Chicago. Vega-Cruz, a self-admitted member of the 18th Street gang, was twice deported to Mexico in 2007 and illegally re-entered the U.S. He has criminal convictions in Arizona for misconduct involving weapons and drug paraphernalia, as well as arrests for drugs, aggravated assault, and discharging a firearm in city limits. Vega-Cruz remains in ICE custody pending removal to Mexico.

Of the 49 men arrested, 42 had criminal histories; some of their convictions and arrests include: drunken driving, drug possession, aggravated battery, burglary, theft, and domestic battery.

Since ICE began Operation Community Shield in February 2005, more than 8,900 gang members belonging to more than 700 different gangs have been arrested nationwide. More information on Operation Community Shield is available at: www.ice.gov.

The public is encouraged to report suspicious activity by calling ICE's toll-free hotline at: 1-866-347-2423. This hotline is staffed around the clock.