US immigration agents have arrested more than 1,000 people after a five-week operation targeting international gangs, officials announced on Monday.
The suspects were arrested on charges ranging from drug and sex trafficking to murder and racketeering. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement headed the operation, dubbed Project Shadowfire, between Feb. 15 and March 21, the agency said in a statement.
The majority of the 1,113 arrestees were US citizens, but 239 were foreign nationals from countries in Central America, Asia, Europe, and the Caribbean. A majority of those arrested also had links with gangs like MS-13, Sureños, Norteños, Bloods, and several prison-based gangs.
The operation was nationwide, but the greatest activity took place in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Houston, El Paso, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Authorities also seized 150 firearms, over 20 kg of narcotics, and more than $70,000 in US currency.
ICE has been targeting transnational gangs with similar operations since 2005, but regularly participates in operations involving US citizens and non-citizens due to its expertise on international gangs. According to ICE, Homeland Security Investigation agents have apprehended more than 40,000 gang members and seized more than 8,000 firearms in the past ten years.
“This operation is the latest example of ICE’s ongoing efforts, begun more than a decade ago under Operation Community Shield, to target violent gang members and their associates, to eradicate the violence they inflict upon our communities and to stop the cash flow to transnational organized crime groups operating overseas,” said ICE Director Sarah R. Saldaña in an ICE press release.
The agency has been the focus of criticism in North Carolina recently, after it was accused of using schools and bus stops to arrest teenagers who came into the country amidst the wave of unaccompanied minors fleeing violence in Central America in 2014.
Material from Reuters was used in this report.