- The Washington Times - Friday, September 17, 2010

Twelve Mexican nationals with ties to a violent street gang in California have been arrested by a federal, state and local law enforcement task force as part of an anti-gang initiative known as “Operation Community Shield,” led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The operation has accounted for nearly 400 arrests this year and more than 18,900 since it began five years ago.

The arrests in Santa Maria, Calif., this week were the culmination of a two-month investigation targeting members of the West Park Surenos street gang, which law-enforcement authorities have described as a transnational street gang that posed a significant public safety threat.

Just last month, eight other members of the West Park gang were arrested in connection with a drug smuggling operation in California’s central coast, during which authorities seized more than 19 pounds of methamphetamine, a methamphetamine conversion laboratory, 1.5 kilograms of cocaine, crack cocaine, 25 pounds of marijuana, 35 firearms and $800,000 in currency and property. Those arrests were led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

The West Park gang is just one of numerous criminal groups that originated in California and are known as the Surenos, who have now spread throughout the United States. They are controlled and influenced by the Mexican Mafia, a Mexican-American prison gang. The Surenos have widespread involvement in drug trafficking, drug rip-offs, prostitution, business robberies, contract murders, gambling, debt collection, extortion and other illicit activities.

“This operation shows our shared resolve to fight back against the street gangs that are threatening our neighborhoods,” said David Wales, resident agent in charge of the ICE field office that oversees the agency’s operations in Santa Barbara County. “For too long, street gangs here and elsewhere have used violence and intimidation to hold communities hostage to fear. As this operation makes clear, now it’s the gang members who should be afraid.”

The 11 men and one woman arrested as part of the enforcement action all have criminal histories, including prior arrests and convictions on charges ranging from drug and weapons violations to robbery and domestic violence, authorities said. With one exception, they were taken into custody over the course of the last two days.

The exception, Jose Diaz-Diaz, was arrested Sept. 7 at his Santa Maria residence. The previously deported Mexican national, whose criminal record includes past convictions for assault with a deadly weapon and obstructing a peace officer, is being prosecuted for re-entry after deportation, a federal felony violation that carries a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

While Diaz-Diaz faces criminal charges, the others arrested during the operation were taken into custody on administrative immigration violations. They will be detained by ICE and scheduled for a deportation hearing before an immigration judge.

In addition to the Santa Maria Police Department, ICE officials said they received substantial assistance with the operation from the police departments in Lompoc and Guadalupe; the Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo county sheriff’s departments; the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office; the Santa Barbara County Probation Department; California State Probation and Parole; the FBI; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

“I want to express my appreciation to all of the agencies involved in this operation, particularly Homeland Security Investigations,” said Santa Maria Chief of Police Danny Macagni. “By pooling our resources, intelligence and expertise, we’ve taken a number of dangerous individuals off of our streets and helped make this a safer environment for everyone.”

Under Operation Community Shield, ICE is using its immigration and customs authorities in a coordinated, national campaign against criminal street gangs across the country. As part of the effort, the agency’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.

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.

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