The Homeland Security Department’s latest crackdown on street gangs brought in more than 600 suspected gang members, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials Thursday. Working alongside each other, ICE agents and local authorities in 179 cities arrested 638 suspected gang members over a monthlong procedure in March and April. ICE officials commented that 78 suspected gang members were arrested on federal charges while the other 447 only faced state charges. ICE also arrested 113 other individuals on administrative immigration charges.
More than 400 of the individuals arrested had violent criminal histories, including seven of those individuals also wanted on murder charges. Those arrested will not be identified nor will the charge they face be made public.
This latest crackdown, nicknamed “Project Southbound”, is a part of a larger ICE initiative originally started in 2005. This notion targeted street gangs with international ties. Since the initiative has started, ICE states it has arrested more than 33,000 suspected gang members. According to ICE approximately three-quarters of the suspected gang members arrested in the latest operation belonged to the Surenos, or Sur 13, street gang. Sur 13 was originated in Southern California and has members spread across the United States. The Sur 13 members pay tribute to the Mexican Mafia gang. In its 2011 National gang threat Assessment, the Justice Department said Sur 13 is expanding more rapidly than any other national gang. The government also said Sur 13 members are responsible for crimes including; murder, extortion and drug trafficking.
The crackdown also caught several members of the infamously violent Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, gang known for using machetes to hack victims. According to a 12-count racketeering indictment opened in federal court in Greenbelt, Maryland, in March, nine of the MS-13 gang members are accused of crimes. These crimes include murder, extorting high school students, running brothels, witness tampering and obstructing justice. Last year the Obama administration levied financial sanctions against six leaders of the gang, which was designated as an international criminal group by the U.S. government. MS-13 was founded over 20 years ago by immigrants escaping El Salvador’s civil war. The founders of the gang built a reputation as one of the most sophisticated and ruthless street gangs, taking lessons learned from the brutal war to the streets of Los Angeles. MS-13 has a very strong presence in Southern California, Washington and northern Virginia, all areas with considerable Salvadoran populations. This notorious gang with as many as 10,000 members stretched across 46 states, also are allied with several of Mexico’s warring drug cartels.