ICE arrests 1,378 in nationwide gang operation
WASHINGTON (ABC7) —
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officials are revealing details of a massive anti-gang operation that's resulted in 1,378 arrests nationwide.
The six week long operation, which began March 26th, targeted violent criminal street gangs in the DC metro area, San Antonio, San Diego, and Newark.
"The primary purpose of the operation was to identify, arrest, and prosecute gang members and associates who threaten our communities," Thomas Homan, ICE's Acting Director told reporters.
The operation, called "Project New Dawn" was led by ICE's Homeland Security Investigations section, known as HCI.
In the DC area alone, agents arrested 52 people, including 29 members of the El Salvador-controlled MS-13 gang.
"Nearly 1100 were arrested on federal or state criminal charges, including murder, assault and other crimes of violence," says DHS Deputy Executive Associate Director Derek Benner.
Authorities arrested 21 people on murder related charges, and seven for rape and sexual assault charges.
Others face drug trafficking, weapons smuggling, human smuggling, sex trafficking, and racketeering charges.
Police say more than 1000 of those arrested had gang affiliations: connections to MS-13, and the Crips, Bloods, and the Surenos street gangs.
"Let me be clear that these violent criminal street gangs are the biggest threat facing our communities," Homan says.
DC-based HSI agents arrested eleven MS-13 gang members in April at a home in Falls Church, police say.
Ten of those actions were 'administrative arrests', for immigation violations, the eleventh was a criminal arrest.
Investigators say federal agents and Fairfax County Police were keeping the home under surveillance because of reports about alleged sex trafficking.
"Our goal at the end of the day is to arrest, prosecute, imprison, deport and remove trans-national gang members as well as to supress violence, and prosecute crimial enterprises," Benner says.
ICE says during the operation, officers seized 238 guns and $492,000 in cash.
But the agency also revealed a troubling trend.
Investigators in the San Diego area found street gangs are bucking the idea of turf or territory, and instead, are acting in concert, with different groups using each other's expertise to maximize illegal profits.
"One gang, they specialize in narcotics smuggling, one may specialize in weapons trafficking," Benner explains. "They're using each other in this particular case, to further their own enterprises."
Authorities say of those arrested, 933 are U.S. citizens, and 445 are foreign nationals from Central America, South America, Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean.
ICE's Acting Director says the notion of sanctuary cities, where local authorities don't cooperate with, or take part in ICE operations, is making these investigations more difficult.
"One officer can make (an) arrest inside the jail, turn him over to us, we can remove that person from the country," Homan says. "When they get released without our attention, they're back on the streets."
He says after an initial arrest, 30 to 40 percent of gang-related suspects are repeat offenders.
Some of those in custody face federal re-entry charges, for returning to the U.S. after they were kicked out of the country for immigration or criminal violations.
ICE officials say this is not over, that there will be more operations like this in the future.
"We are not done," Homan says. "We have a laser focus on these groups, and we will continue to actively pursue them, wherever they are in the United States."