U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman said Utahns are sick of gang violence, and federal officials are stepping in to help.
"We are tired, frustrated and upset about gang problems," Tolman said during a press conference Tuesday. "These are all violent gangs, and we want them out of our communities."
Federal and state law-enforcement officials gathered to announce a massive roundup of gang members who are in the country illegally. Over the past two months, officials say Operation Community Shield resulted in the arrests of about 50 Mexican nationals involved in gang activity in Utah County and in Ogden.
The arrests include members and associates of Surenos-13, 18th Street, Southside 31st Street and Nortenos. Several of the local gangs are affiliated with well-known, California-based gangs.
The announcement comes after the fatal shooting of a 7-year-old Glendale girl in a gang-related, drive-by shooting and the capture of another gang member in Mexico who is accused of fatally shooting the owner of a Salt Lake hair salon in 2007.
Of the 24 gang members picked up in Ogden, nine have been referred for federal prosecution, and 12 face charges in state court. At least three will be charged with illegally re-entering the country.
Some 26 foreign nationals were arrested in Utah County. Six have been indicted by a federal grand jury for re-entering the country, and 14 others face prosecution by state officials in Utah County.
Tolman said the remaining people arrested will be charged with illegal entry and processed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials for deportation.
"This is just the first installment," Tolman said. "There will be more."
He expected similar operations to take place in Salt Lake County and other parts of the state.Weber County Attorney Mark DeCaria said he was grateful for the federal government's efforts in dealing with illegal immigrants who are gang members. DeCaria said this particular segment of the population is to blame for a lot of crimes involving drugs and guns. Citing recent racketeering prosecution of several local violent gangs, Tolman said his office also has the option to go after these gangs as criminal organizations.