Local News

50 in Raleigh Part of Nationwide Sweep of Alien Gang Members

Posted October 9, 2007 11:04 a.m. EDT
Updated October 9, 2007 7:36 p.m. EDT

— A federal round-up puts dozens of illegal immigrants and area gang members behind bars and on their way out of the United States.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents worked this summer to arrest 93 people in North Carolina: 50 in the Raleigh area and 43 in Winston-Salem. It was part of nationwide effort called Operation Community Shield that netted more than 1,300 suspects.

In a Triangle arrest, one suspect hid in the bathroom of a Raleigh nightclub with a gun hidden in the toilet.

“We took the worst of the worst, so for us that was a significant impact,” the Department of Homeland Security’s resident agent in charge in Raleigh, Thomas O'Connell, said Tuesday.ICE Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers announced the arrests, which began in  June.

“Violent, foreign-born gang members and their associates have more than worn out their welcome, and to them I have one message: good riddance,” Myers said.

Authorities linked the foreign nationals to nearly 20 different street gangs, including MS-13, Surenos 13 and Brown Pride.

Weeks of planning that followed investigations with local law enforcement agencies let ICE agents target several known Hispanic gangs and their hangouts. Most of the suspects have already been deported, officials said.

“I think that sends a message to other gang members,” O’Connell said.

“When you take that number of gang members off the streets in this multi-city area, that's bound to have a positive effect,” Raleigh Police spokesman Jim Sughrue said.

No one suspects the arrests are a total solution to the gang problem, however.

ICE agents say many illegal-resident gang members are starting to move to more rural areas because of aggressive enforcement in Raleigh and Durham. Federal agents say they are focusing more operations in rural areas in response to the shift.

“It’s an ongoing thing,” O’Connell said.

The ICE chief in Raleigh said many illegal immigrants are drawn to our state because of jobs and because access to documents like a driver's license is easier than it is in some other places.

Some suspects arrested in this sweep had been deported before and returned, and Homeland Security agents worry other groups could follow that example.

“Terrorists could be using the gang members’ methods of smuggling across the southern border to get terrorists into the United States.” O’Connell said. That is part of the reason officials say efforts like Operation Community Shield will continue.