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Transnational Gangs

ICE arrests 65 in week-long operation targeting area gang members

Crackdown part of ICE's national anti-gang effort - Operation Community Shield

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SAN DIEGO, Calif.- Sixty-five gang members, gang associates and criminal aliens are facing federal and state criminal charges or deportation this morning following a week-long multi-agency operation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in close partnership with several local law enforcement agencies.

The arrests are 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. ICE received assistance with the operation from the North County Gang Task Force and the Escondido Police Department.

"Our ongoing joint enforcement efforts have substantially weakened several of the transnational gangs operating in this area," said Miguel Unzueta, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in San Diego. "No one knows that better than the gang members and gang associates we arrested during this latest operation."

During the enforcement action, dozens of ICE agents fanned out countywide targeting gang members and gang associates in five cities, including San Marcos, Vista, Escondido, Poway and San Diego. Agents arrested 39 violent street gang members and gang associates linked to 19 local street gangs operating in North County and San Diego and arrested one gang member from a Los Angeles-based street gang.

Of the gang members and associates arrested during the operation, at least 14 are facing prosecution on federal felony criminal charges for re-entry after deportation. The group includes a 23-year old Mexican national with ties to a local street gang who was previously convicted of armed robbery. Other gang members facing federal criminal prosecution had prior convictions for weapons charges and domestic violence.

Another 18 of those arrested were booked into county jails to face possible state charges for new crimes, ranging from drug offenses to violating court ordered gang injunctions.

The remaining 26 individuals are criminal aliens who were arrested on administrative immigration violations and placed in removal proceedings. This group includes a 21-year-old Mexican national and San Marcos resident with ties to the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang who has two prior drug convictions. These individuals will be held in ICE custody and scheduled for a hearing before an immigration judge.

This week's operation was similar to anti-gang enforcement actions carried out by ICE in the San Diego area in the summer of 2007 and 2008. Together those operations resulted in the arrest of more than 140 foreign national gang members and gang associates.

Since Operation Community Shield began in February 2005, ICE agents nationwide have arrested more than 13,000 gang members and associates linked to more than 900 different gangs and seized nearly 500 guns. More than 150 of those arrested were gang leaders.

The National Gang Unit at ICE 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.

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 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.

Editor's Note: B-roll taken by ICE during the anti-gang enforcement operation is available. To obtain a copy of the DVD, contact the ICE Office of Public Affairs at (619) 744-4617.