WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced today the arrests of 1,759 gang members and associates, criminals and immigration violators as part of a comprehensive law enforcement operation led by ICE agents. Law enforcement agencies at the federal, state and local level partnered during this four-month long public safety surge, which ended yesterday, that targeted violent street gangs and their criminal associates in 53 cities across 28 states.
These arrests are the result of Operation Community Shield, a comprehensive initiative launched by ICE in 2005 to disrupt and dismantle transnational violent street gangs. 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.
"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 surge, nearly 1,500 were gang members, associates or those otherwise criminally charged – 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 into removal proceedings. ICE agents arrested 730 individuals on new criminal charges ranging from attempted murder, aggravated assault and drug and firearms violations to charges of re-entering the country after deportation.
"Operation Community Shield and the 287(g) programs have assisted us in making great strides in combating gang activity in our community," said Major Ramone Gilbert, Hall County Sheriff's Department in Georgia. "With these programs, we have seen a decrease of over 200 gang members in our area in 2008."
"Although ICE rightfully has a responsibility to enforce the immigration laws of this nation, they also have responsibilities and goals which are common to the responsibilities and goals of my department. It is in this narrow area of mutual purpose that we have chosen to enthusiastically and unabashedly partner with ICE," said Chief Charles Everett, Union City Police Department in New Jersey. "As a result, Union City has benefited greatly from the manpower, resources, expertise and special enforcement powers that ICE brings to the table and this partnership has resulted in the arrest and detention of over 26 violent street gang members in the recent surge."
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 were:
- Walter Garza-Morales, 26, a Mexican national and member of the 18th Street Gang, who was arrested in Ogden, Utah. Garza-Morales has an extensive criminal history for crimes including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, assault with intent to cause bodily harm on a family member, aggravated assault against a public servant and others;
- Jeffrey Diaz, 20, a national from the Dominican Republic and member of the Dominican's Don't Play (DDP) street gang, who was arrested and charged under New Jersey law for aggravated assault and attempted murder;
- Roberto Dominguez, 27, a Mexican national and leader of the Inland Empire gang who was arrested in Atlanta. Dominguez was previously convicted for conspiracy to commit assault in racketeering (RICO). He served 33 months in prison, was deported and illegally re-entered the country. He now faces criminal prosecution for illegally re-entering the United States;
- Kinske St. Vilus, 33, a Bahamian national and leader of the Uptown Gang, who was arrested in Miami for an open warrant on RICO conspiracy charges. St. Vilus has numerous criminal convictions including possession with intent to sell or deliver cocaine and aggravated battery; and
- Valentin Sierra-Martinez, 20, a Mexican national and confirmed Norteno-14 gang member who was arrested in Chicago. Sierra-Martinez was the 10,000th gang member or associate arrested by ICE as part of Operation Community Shield. Sierra-Martinez was in the U.S. illegally and has an extensive criminal background including convictions for residential burglary, domestic battery, possessing drug paraphernalia and knowingly damaging property.
Operation Community Shield 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. In addition to MS-13, targeted gangs included Surenos-13, 18th Street Gang, Latin Kings, Bloods, Crips, and Vatos Locos to name a few.
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.