A nationwide operation led to the arrest of 26 alleged gang members and associates in San Diego and Imperial counties, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials announced Thursday.
During a month-long operation called Project Southbound, ICE agents targeted suspects from 145 gangs affiliated with the Sureños criminal street gang.
All those arrested in San Diego or Imperial counties are now facing federal and state charges including illegal re-entry after deportation, narcotics violations and weapons violations.
The San Diego, El Centro, Brawley, Imperial and Calipatria police departments and the Imperial County Sheriff’s Office helped federal agents with the crackdown.
The local operation was just one part of the larger ICE effort. Across 179 U.S. cities, agents arrested 638 people for criminal offenses or immigration violations, and ICE officials said more than 73 percent of the suspects were members or associates of the Sureños.
The Southern California-based Sureños gang is believed to be responsible for a wide range of international criminal activity, including murder, human trafficking, narcotics trafficking, prostitution, extortion and more, according to ICE.
Membership and cliques associated with the Sureños were growing faster than any other national-level gang in the U.S., the Department of Justice’s 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment said.
Among the 638 taken into custody under Project Southbound, 414 had criminal history and 221 were foreign nationals.