HSI Returns to the Streets to Target Gangs

In a press conference today, ICE announced the results of a six-week operation targeting transnational gangs, led by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI, a division of ICE). Some of these gangs have rebounded in recent years, taking advantage of lax border security to grow their ranks, and this operation indicates renewed attention to the problem and, most notably, a welcome return to assertive use of immigration enforcement authorities as an effective weapon against this scourge.

This operation, dubbed Project New Dawn, netted 1,378 arrests, of whom 445 were aliens from 21 different countries. It took place from March 26 to May 6, and was the largest gang operation ever conducted by ICE. The number of arrests in this one operation is nearly equal to the total number of gang arrests in the entire 2014 fiscal year (the most recent year for which I have statistics) — that year HSI made 1,578 gang arrests.

Twenty-one of the offenders were arrested on murder-related charges, seven were arrested for rape and sex assault charges, and three for assaults on law enforcement officers.

The largest number arrested were affiliated with the Bloods (137), followed by Surenos (118), MS-13 (104), and the Crips (104).

Three of the gangsters arrested had previously been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). The DACA status of one of them already had been revoked before this arrest. Outside of this operation, many others have had their DACA revoked by USCIS for gang membership, but remain in the country. ICE reported Thursday that approximately 1,500 people have had their DACA status terminated for criminal or gang reasons since 2012. According to information released to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2015, at least 280 DACA grantees had their status terminated because of gang ties, and as of July 2015, only 89 of them had been removed, 10 were in custody, 77 of them had been released from ICE custody, and 89 of them were never booked into ICE custody at all.

Ten of those arrested were classified as unaccompanied minors who crossed the border illegally. Of those, eight were members of MS-13, the notoriously violent gang whose members include a large number of Central American illegal aliens. (For more on the nexus between the influx of unaccompanied minors and the resurgence of MS-13 see here).

The largest number of arrests took place in metropolitan areas around Houston, New York, Atlanta, and Newark, N.J.

One concentration of MS-13 arrests occurred in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, where a large number of unaccompanied minors have been resettled. HSI arrested 29 MS-13 members in this region, including one at a stash house in Falls Church, Va., that was used for sex trafficking.

HSI and its law enforcement partners also seized 238 guns, large quantities of illegal drugs, and nearly $500,000 in cash.

These operations are an ideal opportunity for ICE to rebuild and strengthen relations with local law enforcement agencies. Many of the transnational gangs operate across jurisdictions and in a manner difficult for local police and sheriffs to combat without additional resources and authorities. With years of success going back to the launch of a national gang targeting operation in 2005 (first created to address MS-13), HSI has extensive expertise in dealing with transnational gangs — plus it has the unique immigration authorities that no other law enforcement agency can bring to bear on the problem (see the Center for Immigration Studies Backgrounder "Taking Back the Streets"). They can work with local partners to identify deportable gang members to get them off the street, often in surge operations, and sometimes in jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with ICE in other scenarios. They also can launch the complex investigations and prosecutions that lead to the dismantling of the more sophisticated criminal enterprises that have taken root in many communities. After years of suppressed immigration enforcement and relaxation in the prosecution and sentencing of certain crimes, they have no shortage of targets. Communities will welcome them.

I have submitted an information request to ICE seeking more details on the non-citizens arrested in this operation and hope to be able to report more.