WASHINGTON — More than 1,300 alleged violent gang members and their associates, many of them undocumented immigrants, were arrested during a three-month crackdown in 23 cities, including Los Angeles and San Diego, federal officials said Tuesday.
The arrests, announced by Julie L. Myers, head of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, were part of a national initiative called Operation Community Shield that targets violent transnational street gangs. The ICE's enforcement powers include the authority to deport undocumented immigrants and legal immigrants who have committed crimes.
"Violent foreign-born gang members and their associates have more than worn out their welcome, and to them I have one message: Good riddance," Myers said at a news conference.
Thirty-seven arrests were made in Los Angeles and 128 in San Diego in the ICE's "summer surge" operation, which began June 1.
The gangs that were the focus of the crackdown have a predominantly foreign-born membership, Myers said, and are frequently involved in crimes including murder, kidnapping, extortion and human smuggling.
The largest number of individuals arrested this summer were reputed members or associates of the Mara Salvatrucha organization, commonly referred to as MS-13. It is one of the most violent and rapidly growing transnational street gangs.
"The behavior of these gang members is often as brazen as it is deadly," Myers said.
Of the 1,313 individuals arrested, 939 were charged with immigration violations and face deportation proceedings. The remaining 374 face more serious criminal charges, including drug possession, assault, firearms violations and reentering the country after deportation.
Myers credited increased cooperation among local, state and federal law enforcement partners with helping make the arrests. In fiscal 2007, which ended Sept. 30, Operation Community Shield arrests were up 134% over those in fiscal 2006.
"When it comes to local law enforcement, we use anything within the toolbox to make our cities safer," said Fort Worth, Texas, Police Chief Ralph Mendoza. "And to be able to do that, you have to have this coordination, this partnership, with the federal agencies because they bring things to the table that we as a local law enforcement agency can't do."
The 37 individuals arrested in Los Angeles included 28 foreign nationals taken into custody on Friday and suspected of having ties to 15 street gangs in the San Fernando Valley.
Established in February 2005, Operation Community Shield has resulted in the arrests of more than 7,655 alleged members and associates of about 700 gangs, ICE officials said.
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An anti-gang operation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has resulted in 1,313 gang-related arrests since June 1:
New York and Long Island: 205
San Diego: 128
Raleigh, N.C.: 93
Oklahoma City: 65
Fort Myers, Fla.: 59
Washington, D.C.: 55
Fort Smith, Ark.: 42
Los Angeles: 37
Boise, Idaho: 34
St. Paul, Minn.: 34
Newark, N.J.: 27
Las Vegas: 26
San Jose: 26
Orlando, Fla.: 17
Source: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement