Federal authorities arrested more than 1,000 people in a five-week operation aimed at disrupting transnational gangs across the United States.
The operation was nationwide, but the majority of the seizures and arrests took place in Los Angeles, San Juan, Atlanta, San Francisco, Houston and El Paso areas.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) special agents worked with local law enforcement to arrest 1,133 people, which included more than 900 transnational gang members.
While most of the people arrested were charged with criminal offenses, 132 were hit with immigration violations.
“Our unique authority involves our immigration authority and not only our criminal investigative abilities, but also the ability to focus on these members of these gangs that are here illegally,” said Peter Edge, executive associate director of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
The operation, called “Project Shadowfire,” was led by HSI’s National Gang Unit as a part of a program that was established in 2005 to combat the growth of transnational gangs.
Two hundred and thirty-nine foreign nationals from 13 countries in Central America, Asia, Europe and the Caribbean were also arrested.
These gangs have become increasingly violent and more organized in the U.S. in recent years, according to Edge.
“What we are seeing is that the gangs are becoming a little bit more organized as gang members enter the United States, whether it’s legally or illegally, and they’re doing a wide variety of recruiting,” he said.
The majority of people arrested were affiliated with MS-13, Sureños, Norteños, Bloods and several prison-based gangs.
“Our hope that these criminal gang members will be processed through the judicial system,” said Edge. “And that we will be ultimately able to deport those who are not citizens of this country.”
The gangs are typically associated with criminal activity like human trafficking, human smuggling, narcotics smuggling and extortion.
During the operation, HSI special agents also seized 150 firearms, more than 20 kilograms of narcotics and more than $70,000 in U.S currency, officials said.
Transnational gangs are also moving into cities that traditionally haven’t been impacted by these types of criminals, said Edge.
“It all boils down to the reward that they get and the reward is money. So if they’re able to come up with a narcotics smuggling scheme or human smuggling scheme for which they are paid and if they’re successful, it tends to grow,” he said.