A major crackdown led to the arrest of more than 200 alleged members and associates of the worldwide street gang, MS-13, officials announced Wednesday. And of that group, only five were living legally in the United States.
The first phase of the operation involved unsafe members of the gang, and the initial arrests in El Salvador numbered 53, after a year and a half of investigation that concluded in September.
Hundreds of accused gang members and associates are under arrest, but its violence is spreading in American neighborhoods.
In a statement, the Justice Department said a majority of the 214 MS-13 members arrested in the United States were from El Salvador and that 64 members had illegally entered the United States as "unaccompanied alien children". MS-13 is the only street gang designated by the Treasury Department as a transnational criminal organization.
ICE Deputy Director Thomas Homan reiterated that combating MS-13 is a priority and Thursday's announcement is the culmination of a two-phase, 18-month investigation. The second phase, which took place between October 8 and November 11, netted 214 arrests. Many UACs claim to immigration officials that they are fleeing their home countries as a result of the gang presence there, and have been allowed into the country to pursue years-long immigration and family court proceedings.
"The MS-13 gang is a risky menace to our children, families, and citizens of not just the United States, but internationally", Luck said. "The President of the United States has made this a priority and ICE joins him in this".
"These same gang members are taking advantage of immigrant communities in which they live-committing acts of horrendous violence against its residents, attracting violence from rival gangs, extorting small businesses, peddling street level narcotics, and coopting the youth and recruiting them into this gang".
Although ICE took the lead in Operation Raging Bull, other agencies play a role as well.
"With more than 10,000 members across 40 states, MS-13 is one of the most unsafe criminal organizations in the United States today", U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. All are suspected of being somewhere in the U.S.
But Molina's team was still able to make the arrest based on the suspect's immigration status - part of the unique mandate of the Homeland Security investigations unit of ICE. However at least 12 of those arrested in Maryland were indicted on federal racketeering charges over the past month, officials said. Five defendants face charges involving three murders and a planned fourth from July 2016 to July of this year.
He said during the operation, Border Patrol identified additional MS-13 gang members, who are now on the transnational organized crime watchlist.