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Transnational Gangs

ICE leads nationwide operation to disrupt transnational gangs

ICE Assistant Secretary Morton at Big Freeze press conference
ICE Assistant Secretary Morton at Big Freeze press conference

Project Big Freeze focused on hotbeds of gang activity in 83 cities around the country in the largest U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)-led enforcement operation targeting transnational gangs with ties to drug trafficking organizations.

From Jan. 17-24, after two months of intelligence- and information-gathering, ICE, together with more than 115 other federal, state and local law enforcement partners, identified, located and put behind bars 447 gang members and seized 45 firearms. An additional 65 individuals were arrested on federal and/or state criminal violations, including administrative immigration violations.

Law enforcement officials targeted members from 28 transnational street gangs, many of whom not only traffic in drugs and firearms but also commit murder, rape, robbery and a host of other crimes in perpetuating and furthering their criminal enterprises. ICE conducted the bold sweep to "rid our streets not only of drug dealers, but the violence associated with the drug trade," said ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton.

In a press conference held at ICE's Potomac Center North headquarters building on Jan. 27, Assistant Secretary Morton said, "The significance of this operation is not just its size. It also reflects how powerful cooperation between federal and local law enforcement can be."

Dallas Police Department's Assistant Chief Charles M. Cato also spoke to conference attendees. He credited the reduced number of homicides in Dallas in the past five years (248 in 2004 compared to 166 in 2009) to law enforcement programs, such as ICE's Operation Community Shield (OCS), which was initiated in 2005. Through OCS, ICE, in collaboration with our federal, state, local, tribal and foreign law enforcement partners, combats transnational criminal street gangs using ICE's unique administrative and statutory authorities, expert investigative techniques and technological resources.

Morton expounded on Chief Cato's correlation between the drop in crime and law enforcement activity explaining how targeting gang members and gang organizations lowers rates of recidivism.

"Members of these gangs are institutionally involved in crime and so are their organizations." Morton said. "The beauty of ICE's authority is that it is a powerful tool to bring these criminals to prosecution and then remove them from the United States."

A case in point is that of the 447 individuals arrested as a result of Project Big Freeze, 366 are foreign nationals who face deportation after their criminal prosecutions are complete.

Richfield, Minn. Police Chief Barry Fritz, whose agency also participated in the nationwide gang operation, praised ICE personnel, saying "they were wonderful and accommodating." Project Big Freeze was a force multiplier with ICE providing the resources, personnel and technology and ability to cross jurisdictions from state to state, as well as charge subjects federally.

"It's a two-way street," said Fritz. Local law enforcement help federal officials in that, "We know our city and where the people are."

See the ICE press release on Project Big Freeze for further information.