- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 2, 2005

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have arrested 582 street gang members and their associates in the past two weeks, nearly half of whom are foreign nationals with criminal convictions in the United States.

The sweep covered 27 states and targeted more than 80 violent street gangs, including Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), 18th Street Gang, Latin Kings, Mexican Mafia, Asian Boyz and Jamaican Posse, which specialize in murder, rape, assault, drug sales and immigration fraud.

“We have a message for violent street gang members in America: Stopping your violence and criminal activities is high on ICE’s list of priorities,” said Marcy Forman, the agency’s director of investigations. “We’re backing up our resolve with results … and we’re just getting started.”

Ms. Forman said at a press briefing yesterday that 11 gang leaders, 490 members and 81 associates were arrested on charges related to violent crimes, immigration violations and possession of fraudulent documents.

She said 261 were identified as foreign nationals with criminal records.

“We are putting these street gangs on notice: Your violence and criminal activities will not go unchallenged,” she said.

Ms. Forman said 384 ICE agents, 247 state and local law-enforcement officers, and 92 agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the FBI teamed up in the initiative, called Operation Community Shield.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the operation targeted “those who commit some of the most serious crimes and threaten the harmony and fabric of our society.”

He noted that since March, more than 1,000 gang members have been arrested in the operation, more than 90 percent of whom were illegal aliens.

“Street gangs in America have grown and expanded their influence to an alarming level, marked by increased violence and criminal activity,” Mr. Chertoff said. “These gangs pose a severe threat to public safety, and this growth must not go unchallenged. We will continue to … help rid our communities of this malignancy.”

The nationwide sweep picked up gang suspects in cities such as Boston, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, San Diego, Detroit and Chicago.

But it also led to arrests in smaller cities without reputations as gang havens, such as Des Moines, Iowa; Raleigh, N.C.; Fort Myers, Fla.; Sioux Falls, S.D.; Sioux City, Iowa; Oceanside, Calif.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; and North Platte, Neb.

Chief Jerry Lance, who leads the Oceanside Police Department, said that as a 39-year law-enforcement veteran in California, he knew “all too well the violence perpetuated by gang members,” noting that one of his officers, Tony Zeppetella, was killed in 2003 by a gang member who also was an illegal alien.

“These gang members do not care about human life. They do not care about their communities. They only care about the gangs,” Chief Lance said. “They only care about the violence they create in these communities — in fact, the violence they wear as a badge of honor.”

Because many gang members come from other countries, it was difficult for local law enforcement to deal with the problem, the chief said, adding that Community Shield and other joint efforts with ICE had resulted in the arrests of 76 gang members and 80 associates in Oceanside alone.

ICE spokesman Dean Boyd described Community Shield as an initiative aimed at disrupting, dismantling and prosecuting violent gangs nationwide.

In March, the operation’s initial target was MS-13, one of the largest and most violent street gangs in the country. More than 100 MS-13 suspects were arrested, including 25 in the Washington area and 10 in Baltimore.

MS-13 members have been tied to killings, robberies, burglaries, carjackings, extortion, rapes and aggravated assaults, including at least seven killings in Virginia and Maryland. Authorities said MS-13 gangs not only have targeted civilians, rival gang members and suspected traitors, but also have issued “green light” notices to kill police officers.

ICE agents also took MS-13 suspects into custody in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas and Newark, N.J., during the March raids — half of whom had prior arrests or convictions in connection with violent crimes, including pending murder charges.

In May, Mr. Boyd said, ICE expanded the operation to include all criminal street and prison gangs with foreign-born members.

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