SALT LAKE CITY — One belongs to the Surenos-Alley Boys. Another hangs with Toonersville Rifa 13. They have criminal records involving violence or drugs. They were deported but returned to the United States illegally.
And they are typical of the 158 people arrested in Utah during a four-month anti-gang sweep led by federal immigration authorities.
Officials on Thursday called it the largest operation of its kind ever carried out in the state.
"This effort shows our collective resolve in Utah to attack and dismantle these dangerous criminal organizations," said Kumar Kibble, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations for the Rocky Mountain region. "For too long, street gangs here and elsewhere have used violence and intimidation to hold communities hostage."
The arrests came through a coordinated effort of the Operation Community Shield Task Force comprised of HSI, ICE, the Utah County Major Crimes Task force and police departments in South Salt Lake, Midvale, Ogden and St. George. Salt Lake City, along with Dallas; St. Paul, Minn.; and Charlotte, N.C., are the first cities in the nation to set up the task force.
"This joint operation brings together local and federal resources to target individuals who are in the country illegally and committing crimes in our communities," U.S. Attorney for Utah Carlie Christensen said.
Of the those arrested, 93 face federal or state charges ranging from solicitation to commit aggravated murder and forcible sexual abuse to drug and firearms violations and re-entry after deportation. The remainder, including some who were deported once, face prosecution in immigration court for being in the country illegally. A re-entry conviction is a felony that carries a potential 20-year prison term.
"If we don't extract those people from the community, they're going to be left to victimize people again," said Jon Lines, ICE assistant special agent in charge for Utah.
South Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Snyder said, aside from getting criminals off the streets, the operation from a local perspective is a quality-of-life issue. Gang members, he said, become nuisances in neighborhoods, with loud parties or intimidating looks.
"It's a stressful living environment. It's a stressful working environment," he said.
Christensen said the operation focused on those previously convicted of crimes and deported only to return to "bad habits" in Utah.
Prosecuting those people deters and disrupts gang activity and has a positive impact on communities, she said.
Arrests were made in 23 Utah cities and towns and in West Wendover, Nev. There were 29 arrested in St. George, 29 in Provo, 18 in Ogden and 17 in Salt Lake City. Arrests also were made in small towns like Hyrum, Delta and Santa Clara.
The 125 foreign nationals taken into custody come from Argentina, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Peru.