August 1, 2005

U.S. arrests 582 in nationwide gang crackdown

By Alan Elsner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. law enforcement agencies
arrested 582 street gang members and associates in a nationwide
crackdown in the past two weeks, Homeland Security Secretary
Michael Chertoff announced on Monday, but hundreds of thousands
more are still active across the country.

Teaming up with federal and local partners, the operation
targeted 54 separate gangs. Those arrested including 11
identified as gang leaders and 261 foreign nationals with prior
criminal convictions, which makes them eligible for deportation
without further legal procedures.

"Street gangs in America have grown and expanded their
influence to an alarming level, marked by increased violence
and criminal activity. These gangs pose a severe threat to
public safety and their growth must not go unchallenged,"
Chertoff told a news conference.

More than 25,000 gangs, comprising some 750,000 members,
are active across the United States, according to the Justice
Department. Lawmakers and law enforcement officials have been
especially alarmed at the spread of extremely violent
Central-American-based gangs such as MS-13, a group originating
in El Salvador now present in 31 U.S. states.

Officials said MS-13 was one of the gangs targeted in the
recent sweep. Others included Surenos, Latin Kings, Mexican
Mafia, Asian Boyz, Jamaican Posse and Brown Pride.

It was the latest stage of an operation code-named
"Community Shield" which began in February and has now netted
over 1,000 gang members, of whom Chertoff said 930 could
eventually be deported.

Most of those arrested were picked up on administrative
immigration charges. However, 76 were charged with criminal
violations ranging from illegally reentering the country after
deportation to being an alien in illegal possession of a
firearm. The arrests covered over 25 states.


In April, Victor Ceara of the Department of Homeland
Security testified that in fiscal year 2004, his division
removed 84,000 criminal aliens from the United States. However,
he said an estimated 400,000 were still at large.

Congress has been trying to give law enforcement new
weapons to use against gangs. Republicans in the House of
Representatives recently proposed new legislation that would
give the Department of Homeland Security the power to deport
immigrants suspected of belonging to a street gang, even if
there was no proof they had committed a crime

The House in May also passed the so-called "gangbusters
bill," which imposed minimum prison sentences ranging from 10
years to life on individuals convicted of gang-related crimes,
expanded the death penalty to include gang murders and allowed
16 and 17-year-old gang members to be tried as adults.

The Senate judiciary committee was supposed to take up a
similar measure last week but adjourned without doing so.