Law enforcement agencies in the United States have arrested nearly 600 alleged gang members as part of a nationwide crackdown on illegal gangs in the past two weeks.
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff announced the arrests, saying street gangs in America have grown and expanded their influence to an alarming level.
Mr. Chertoff says investigators targeted gang members in 27 states, and while many were picked up for alleged immigration violations, 76 face criminal charges.
"Collectively, we have arrested members of over 80 different gangs as part of Operation Community Shield, and over half of those arrested in the last two weeks have prior criminal histories," he said. "Many were gang leaders with exceptionally violent criminal histories. Among the horrific crimes committed by some of the people we have apprehended include murder, rape, assault, burglary and, of course, weapons and narcotics offenses."
Among those gangs targeted in the latest sweep are groups called MS-13, Latin Kings, Mexican Mafia and the Jamaican Posse. Secretary Chertoff says many gang members come into the United States from overseas, and those who have violated U.S. law will be deported.
He says the problem of illegal street gangs has become a global issue, and requires international cooperation.
"Throughout this entire Community Shield initiative, DHS [Department of Homeland Security] has worked closely with international partners and with our domestic law enforcement partners at all levels to identify gang organizations and their memberships, and to act on this intelligence in order to target those criminal gangs who threaten our communities and our homeland," he said.
Operation Community Shield began earlier this year and more than 1,000 alleged gang members have been arrested so far.
Secretary Chertoff says most of them are subject to deportation because they have violated immigration laws. About 230 have been charged with criminal violations.
Many of the arrests came in large urban areas such as Boston, Denver, Detroit and Los Angeles, although arrests were made in many smaller cities as well.
The U.S. Justice Department estimates there are more than 21,000 gangs operating in the United States with at least 730,000 active members.