The arrests were made as part of an ongoing initiative by ICE's National Gang Unit called "Operation Community Shield." As part of the initiative, ICE partners with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies across the country to target the significant public safety threat posed by transnational street gangs.
Thirty-six of the gang members and gang associates arrested in Utah over the last two months are facing federal or state criminal prosecution on charges ranging from re-entry after deportation to murder and drug possession. The remaining 40 gang members and gang associates are foreign nationals who are being processed for deportation.
Operation Community Shield is a proactive partnership designed to remove transnational gang members and their associates from our communities," said Utah U.S. Attorney Brett L. Tolman. "Reducing gang violence in Utah involves a coordinated effort by local, state and federal law enforcement officers and prosecutors. Operation Community Shield is one tool we will continue to use to target gang violence in Utah neighborhoods. We recognize and appreciate the contributions of local, state and federal agencies to Operation Community Shield this year."
Among those charged federally is a 34-year-old Honduran national with ties to the Sureno 13 street gang who has been previously deported at least five times. Guadalupe Alfredo Melendez-Laine was taken into custody by ICE agents in Salt Lake City Aug. 12. Melendez has a lengthy criminal record, including numerous prior arrests and convictions, including a local arrest two years ago for possession and distribution of heroin. The documented gang member is charged with re-entry after deportation, a violation that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Also charged with re-entry after deportation is Juan Castillo-Ortiz, 26, a Mexican national and member of the Brown Pride street gang. Castillo-Ortiz, whose criminal history includes prior arrests for weapons violations and felony drug charges, was arrested by ICE agents in Salt Lake City Aug. 27.
The enforcement surge focused on gang members and gang associates in four areas statewide - Salt Lake City, Provo, Ogden and St. George. The initial arrests occurred in the Salt Lake City area in August, where ICE took 23 individuals into custody. The operation culminated this past weekend with 21 arrests in St. George. The intervening enforcement actions in the Provo and Ogden areas resulted in 17 and 15 arrests respectively.
In each jurisdiction, ICE worked closely with local law enforcement agencies to identify gang members and gang associates who posed a significant threat to public safety. Agencies that played a pivotal role in the gang enforcement surge include the police departments in Salt Lake City, Ogden, Logan, Provo, Orem, St. George, West Valley, Washington City and Park City; the sheriffs' offices in Cache, Davis, Washington, Millard and Mohave counties; as well as the Salt Lake County Metro Gang Unit; the Utah Highway Patrol, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Central Utah Narcotics Task Force. ICE officials say the success of the operation is due in large part to the extraordinary support provided by local and state authorities.
"The SECURE Strike Force is partnering with ICE in Operation Community Shield to do just what the people of Utah need: get the worst criminal aliens off our streets," said Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. "As attorney general, I am committed to protecting all law-abiding Utahns from these dangerous gang members."
Since Operation Community Shield began in February 2005, ICE agents nationwide have arrested more than 14,000 gang members and gang associates. More than 200 of those arrests occurred in Utah.
"This latest operation clearly shows our collective resolve to attack and dismantle the street gangs that are threatening our communities," said Jonathan Lines, assistant special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations that oversees the agency's activities in Utah. "ICE will continue to use its unique immigration and customs authorities to target these organizations and combat the violence and intimidation they use to hold our communities hostage to fear."
The foreign national gang members and gang associates who were arrested during the enforcement surge on administrative immigration violations have been placed in removal proceedings. They will be held in ICE custody and scheduled for deportation hearings before an immigration judge. The majority of the foreign nationals were from Mexico, but the arrestees also include citizens of Honduras, El Salvador, Argentina, Peru, Cuba and Vietnam.
Under Operation Community Shield, ICE is using its powerful immigration and customs authorities in a coordinated, national campaign against criminal street gangs in the United States. As part of the effort, ICE's National Gang Unit identifies violent street gangs and develops intelligence on their membership, associates, criminal activities and international movements to deter, disrupt and dismantle gang operations by tracing and seizing cash, weapons and other assets derived from criminal activities. Transnational street gangs have significant numbers of foreign-born members and are frequently involved in human and contraband smuggling, immigration violations and other crimes with a connection to the border.
To report suspicious activity, call ICE's 24-hour toll-free hotline at: 1-866-347-2423 or visit www.ice.gov.