Monday, September 1, 2008

Feds join Valley gang sweep (Sacramento Bee)

Feds join Valley gang sweep

By John Ellis - Fresno Bee
Published 12:00 am PDT Monday, September 1, 2008

FRESNO – Central Valley gang enforcers are using a new weapon: deportation orders.

Officials say the tactic already is a success. Nearly three dozen gang members who were in the United States illegally have been sent back to their home countries since the program's first arrests in February.

Local authorities have welcomed help from federal immigration agents because they are equipped with a powerful weapon: the ability to deport gang members who are in the country illegally. Federal agents also can ensure that lawbreakers get federal prison time.

The idea started with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in Fresno, who offered to help police. It was part of Operation Community Shield, a program the agency launched three years ago in major metropolitan areas to target violent transnational street gangs – specifically Mara Salvatrucha 13, or MS-13, formed in Los Angeles by immigrants from El Salvador.

ICE agents can take someone into custody for immigration violations, said Brian Poulsen, the resident agent in charge of Fresno's ICE office.

"Most of these gang members have come into the U.S. illegally," he said. "They have already violated federal law. We don't need a criminal charge."

In the past, Poulsen said, his office lacked the staff to help with gang raids. But as the agency focused more on homeland security, officials turned their attention to the street gangs that terrorize communities, he said.

Local agents have participated in gang enforcement operations in the towns of Sanger, Selma, Madera and Fresno, and in Tulare County.

It started in the Valley with the Feb. 13 arrest in Mendota of Brian Rivera, a member of MS-13. Federal agents tracked down Rivera based on information provided by a consortium of gang officers from local agencies. He has since been deported to his native El Salvador.

A week later, federal agents were in Selma, participating in a gang sweep with local police.
Now, six months later, both local and federal law enforcement officials say the strategy has been a success.

So far, 35 gang members in the country illegally have been deported from the Valley as part of the Operation Community Shield sweeps.

They have been sent to Mexico, Central America and Southeast Asian nations such as Laos. Oftentimes, federal authorities say, ICE has agents in these countries who keep an eye on the gang members after their return to their native land.

Law enforcement officials say they expect some deported gang members to return. Already, two gang members previously deported have returned and been rearrested.

But this time, they face a different outcome. Returning after being deported is a felony.

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