New Data Show Immigrant Gang Arrests

By Jessica M. Vaughan on March 27, 2015

Violent immigrant and transnational gangs such as MS-13, the Sureños, and 18th Street continue to present a significant public safety threat in many parts of the United States, according to arrest records released by ICE to the Center for Immigration Studies.

In 2013 (the most recent year available), ICE arrested significant numbers of gang members in California, Texas, Chicago, and the New York City and Washington, DC, metropolitan areas. Large concentrations also were arrested by ICE agents in Atlanta, Charlotte, and south Florida.

In addition to the large transnational gangs, smaller immigrant gangs that operate locally or regionally are a problem all over the United States in urban, suburban, and rural areas. Since 2005, ICE has arrested more than 32,200 gang members, leaders and associates. Arrests peaked in 2012, then dropped by more than 25 percent in 2013, and continued to decline in 2014.

This recent record calls into question President Obama's claim that gang members are among the highest priorities for enforcement. The administration has been severely criticized for legalizing known illegal alien gang members in the controversial Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, including Emmanuel Jesus Rangel-Hernandez, who has been arrested in North Carolina for the murder of four people.

You can see the ICE Gang Arrest fact sheet.

CIS obtained the ICE data through a Freedom of Information Act request as part of ongoing research on transnational gangs and ICE anti-gang enforcement programs. It shows that the most violent gang members arrested by ICE were disproportionately associated with the Central American gangs, including MS-13.

According to a Texas law enforcement agency, the number of MS-13 members encountered by the Border Patrol in south Texas has been on the rise since 2011, and corresponds with the increase in Central American minors and families arriving illegally. In 2014, 43 percent of all gang members encountered in the Rio Grande Valley sector were affiliated with MS-13. Of these, 11 percent were minors. The chief deputy sheriff of Brooks County, Texas, testified earlier this week about the major cross-border crime problems caused by the gangs and cartels, including drug, human, and weapons smuggling, and the threat these organizations pose to the public and to law enforcement officers.

Over the years, some of the immigrant gangs have evolved from relatively small-time street crime perpetrators to flourishing criminal enterprises with an international network of affiliates that employ sophisticated technology and weaponry. In addition, pressure from experienced urban law enforcement agencies can cause gangs to relocate to less populated areas. ICE has a long and successful history of effective partnerships with local law enforcement agencies to address these gangs and lawmakers should encourage these efforts and ensure they are sustained. If these efforts are allowed to wither, and gangs are able to spread and prosper, then it becomes exponentially harder to put them out of business. These problems need to be nipped in the bud.

DHS appears increasingly reluctant to consider gang membership or criminal gang activity as a factor necessarily leading to the denial of immigration benefits or deportation. Immigration enforcement is a critical tool for dealing with transnational and immigrant gangs, which wreak havoc and degrade the quality of life in our communities. Gang members who are not citizens are more vulnerable to law enforcement as a result. ICE agents should be empowered to use all of their authorities to remove non-citizen gang members, including removal on mere civil immigration violations — even before an illegal alien gang member is convicted of a major crime. But the Obama administration's ill-conceived enforcement policies have shielded too many gang members from deportation. There is an unacceptable human cost to these so-called prosecutorial discretion policies.