Thursday, March 3, 2011

U.S. Immigration officials announce new gang arrests

Immigration agents have arrested more than 600 gang members with ties to drug smugglers in the past three months, the largest such roundup since 1965, Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Tuesday.

ICE agents, working with state and local authorities in 168 cities, made 678 arrests from December to February in an effort dubbed "Project Southern Tempest," ICE Director John Morton said.

The latest roundup is part of a more than 5-year-old effort aimed at U.S. street gangs with ties to Mexican drug cartels and other drug traffickers.

Morton said Tuesday that nearly half those arrested in the last three months were also connected to street gangs with known ties to violent drug cartels in Mexico. Those cartels are battling each other and the government in Mexico in a struggle that has killed more than 35,000 people since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against the drug gangs shortly after taking office in late 2006.

Federal authorities have announced the results of more than half a dozen such operations in the last 2 1/2 years and touted them as blows to Mexican drug gangs. But an Associated Press review of those sweeps last year showed that the arrests have done little to stymie the drug trade or do more than inconvenience the major Mexican-based cartels.

ICE officials did not identify all of the gang members arrested or say which cartels they or their respective gangs were aligned with. But Morton said 13 gangs whose members were caught up in the latest operation are connected to the cartels. As a group, he said, the gangs have ties to all of Mexico's cartels. All told, members of 133 gangs were arrested.

Morton said 447 suspects face criminal charges, while 231 people were arrested on administrative immigration charges.

The announcement of the arrests comes less than a week after agents from ICE, the Drug Enforcement Administration and other federal, state and local authorities launched a nationwide search for suspects with ties to Mexican cartels.

DEA officials said that effort, which netted more than 650 arrests, was a direct domestic response to the Feb. 15 killing of ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata in a roadside ambush along a Mexican highway.

The arrests announced Tuesday, Morton said, were not part that response. "We're pursuing gangs because they are involved in violent crimes affecting our communities in a big way," Morton said.

He added that U.S. authorities have made it clear they will continue to target cartel members working in the United States and street gangs aligned with those drug organizations.


Controversy in Michigan

Dozens of Latinos and Arab Americans joined faith leaders from around Michigan at the state Capitol Tuesday to call on lawmakers to reject an immigration bill in the state House that is similar to the controversial immigration law in Arizona.

The House Republican proposal would require police officers to question people about their immigration status if there is a suspicion that the person could be an undocumented worker.

Imam Mohammed Mardini of the American Islamic Center in Dearborn says that would divert law enforcement from serious crimes. "Do we really want legalized racial profiling?" he asks.

Mardini says the Arizona law has caused a lot of problems with how to determine who should be targeted. "One Congressman suggested that you could tell an undocumented immigrant by their shoes," Mardini says. "Let us face it - the police aren't going to be pulling over any suspected Canadians."

"There's nothing racist about this bill," says Republican state Representative Dave Agema. "I don't care who you are. They question you have to ask those people who are against this bill, 'What are you hiding? Why are you hiding who you're hiding?'"

"You're going to after anyone who happens to be here illegally and they've already broken a law, that's why the police officer has detained them," he says.

Agema says his proposal would save the state money in health care costs for illegal immigrants, but the protesters say it would cost the state money in additional law enforcement personnel.

Governor Rick Snyder says he wants to bring more immigrants to the state who have advanced degrees.

Opponents of tougher immigration laws from northern Michigan worry about justice, and possible repercussions for farmers.

Josh Wunsch, a cherry and apple grower on Old Mission Peninsula, worries the proposed law could make workers hard to find, particularly in good economic times. He says in 1990s, when jobs were plentiful, farm workers were scarce.


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