Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Thomas Homan on Thursday touted Operation Raging Bull, an 18-month operation that resulted in the arrests of 267 suspected MS-13 gang members and associates.
Homan, recently nominated by President Donald Trump to be the permanent ICE director, said at a news conference that his agency and other law enforcement authorities would continue to disrupt and dismantle MS-13, a violent Salvadoran gang whose full name is Mara Salvatrucha.
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“This is a great operation, but we are not done, and we will not be done until we totally dismantle this organization,” he said.
Trump has made confronting the gang a top priority.
Derek Benner, acting executive associate director of Homeland Security Investigations, said arrests of MS-13 gang members doubled from fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2017. He said Operation Raging Bull played out in two phases. The first, reported earlier this fall, included the arrests of 53 people in El Salvador. The second phase, which took place between October 8 and November 11, netted 214 arrests.
Benner said 93 of those new arrests include people facing state or federal criminal charges. Authorities also apprehended 121 people on immigration violations. Only 16 of those arrested were American citizens; the rest were foreigners. And of that group, only five were living legally in the United States.
Significantly, Benner said, 64 of those arrested had crossed the border illegally in the wave of unaccompanied minors who have been streaming into the United States from Central America in large numbers since 2014.
“The MS-13 gang is a dangerous menace to our children, families, and citizens of not just the United States but internationally.”
The vast majority of those youths have been placed with sponsors in the United States to await hearings in immigration court.
Joseph Kolb, a researcher who has extensively studied the gang, said the Trump administration has made some progress in uprooting transnational criminal organizations.
“But the problem still remains that for all of the people who we’ve taken off the street, we’re still dealing with tens of thousands of kids who have come as unaccompanied minors,” he told LifeZette.
In the fiscal year that ended in September, Kolb said, the Office of Refugee Resettlement placed 40,000 unaccompanied minors in the United States. He said some 70 percent of the sponsors are themselves illegal immigrants.
While the vast majority of those youths are not criminals, Kolb said, they are a fertile recruiting base for gangs like MS-13. And a disproportionate concentration of the relocations in small communities in places like Long Island, New York, have led to a spike in violent crime.
Kolb said the administration ought to prohibit the settlement of unaccompanied minors with illegal immigrants.
“I would project we would see a significant decrease in kids coming to the border,” he said. “I think that would put a remarkable dent in this.”
Benner said the MS-13 arrests include four people charged in Baltimore’s federal court with racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder. A man arrested in Denver on a warrant for DUI had three machetes in his vehicle. An arrest in Los Angles yielded a man who had an Interpol Red Notice, a form of international arrest warrant, for gang-related offenses and who is a suspect in the murder of a police officer in El Salvador.
“We are committed to dismantling violent, transnational gangs such as MS-13 and, when applicable, swiftly removing their members from the country,” Benner said. “They’re lawlessness will not be tolerated by the men and women of ICE or our federal, state and local law enforcement partners.”
Homan said MS-13 maintains a “sophisticated global network” that targets children.
“The violence they perpetrate is shocking and shows no remorse, even a basic respect for human life,” he said. “Eliminating this threat is one of our highest priorities at ICE.”
Homan said the gang traffics in drugs, extortion and violence.
“What often goes unreported is that these same gang members are taking advantage of the immigrant communities in which they live,” he said.
Although ICE took the lead in Operation Raging Bull, other agencies play a role as well. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Francis Cissna said at the news conference his agency helped look for MS-13 members fraudulently seeking immigration benefits and seeking asylum.
Scott Luck, the deputy director of the U.S. Border Patrol, told reporters that his agency’s intelligence unit helped develop files on illegal immigrants with gang ties.
“The MS-13 gang is a dangerous menace to our children, families, and citizens of not just the United States but internationally,” he said.
David Rybicki, deputy assistant attorney general, spoke of eight MS-13 members indicted in Maryland on federal charges of conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, conspiracy to commit murder, and drug offenses. Five defendants face charges involving three murders and a planned fourth from July 2016 to July of this year.
In one of the murders, Rybicki said, the defendants lured the victim, tried to shoot him, and then stabbed him to death.
“MS-13 is true to its motto of ‘kill, rape, control,'” he said, adding, “These arrests announced today represent a victory for the rule of law.”