Over the last month, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) worked on a large-scale initiative called Project Southbound. The project, which reportedly targeted gangs affiliated with the Sureños gang, ultimately lead to the apprehension of 600 gang members in 179 U.S. cities, according to a press release from HSI.
The massive project included involvement from law enforcement on the federal, state, and local level. Of the 600 gang members, officers were able to directly connect 73 precent to the Sureños, according to the HSI report.
The Houston Police Department (HPD) deals with gang members on a regular basis. A spokeswoman from the department told Breitbart Texas that gang members are typically identified by their tattoos. “Many times, they even self-identify,” she added.
ICE Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas S. Winkowski said in a statement, “Project Southbound is the largest-ever ICE operation targeting the Sureños gang. This gang now has more than 30,000 members in the United States and its numbers are growing. Targeting transnational gangs like the Sureños is a top priority for ICE and we will continue to disrupt and dismantle the violence and criminal activities that they inflict upon our neighborhoods.”
The HSI reported that the majority of those apprehended through the project were charged with criminal offenses and 414 individuals had “violent criminal histories”–256 were additionally foreign nationals from 21 countries. At this time, it is unknown how many of those were in the U.S. illegally at the time they were arrested. It is easy to surmise, however, that the figure is significant given that 113 of those apprehended were arrested for “immigration violations,” according to the HSI.
Some of the arrested individuals had particularly disturbing criminal pasts. Many were wanted for murder, extortion, or sexual assault.
Numerous firearms, as well as significant amounts of drugs, were also allegedly confiscated during the arrests.
The She Sureños, also known as Sur 13, originally formed in California but has now spread to areas throughout the U.S.
“The Sureños and their affiliates pay tribute to the Mexican Mafia and the number ’13’ is their symbol signifying ‘M’ in the alphabet for Mexican Mafia,” the HSI release stated. “Membership and cliques associated with the Sureños are expanding faster than any other national-level gang in the United States…Sureños gang members are involved in a myriad of criminal activity, including murder, extortion, narcotics trafficking, human trafficking, prostitution and other crimes with a nexus to the border.”
The HPD spokeswoman told Breitbart Texas that she is careful not to reveal too much information specific to the Sureños.
“We very rarely speak about specific gangs,” she said. “We don’t like to necessarily give all the information about the gangs because then they get notoriety in the media and that just fuels them further. Also, a lot of our Gang Officers are undercover so they don’t like to give out all of the information they have collected.”
HPD added that sometimes it can be difficult to connect crimes directly to gang activity. “A lot of people are in gangs but they’re committing crimes whether or not their in gangs,” she said.
Project Southbound was part of Operation Community Shield, an initiative which has led to the arrest of over 30,000 gang members nation-wide since its founding. ICE lists the mission of Operation Community Shield as helping “HSI locate, investigate, prosecute, and where applicable, immediately remove gang members from our neighborhoods and ultimately from the United States…ICE recognizes that transnational criminal street gangs represent a significant threat to public safety in communities throughout the United States.”
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