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Gang suspects arrested, face deportation

Twenty-six gang members who were in the country illegally were arrested in the Las Vegas Valley during a six-day sweep in mid-September, authorities said.

The arrests, announced Tuesday, were the latest installment of Operation Community Shield, an initiative launched in 2005 by Immigration Customs Enforcement. One goal of the operation is to get gang members off the street by enforcing immigration laws.

The 26 people arrested last month with the help of Las Vegas police face deportation, said Richard Curry, an ICE assistant special agent.

"There is no doubt these people commit a lot of local crimes, everything from murder down to violent assault, domestic violence and narcotics. Removing some of these individuals from the gangs themselves will assist in making the streets a little safer," he said.

Six were members of the 18th Street Gang, four were members of the MS-13 gang, two were members of the Barrio Naked City Gang, and one was a member of a skinhead neo-Nazi gang, Curry said. The rest were from other, smaller gangs, he said.

Some illegal immigrants who are gang members in the United States were involved in gangs before their arrival, but most are enticed into the illegal activity by peer influence and the ability to obtain money in a quick manner, Curry said.

They are often hard to track because they do not hold formal employment and do not have their names listed on utility bills or phone records.

Federal authorities reported a total of 1,313 Community Shield arrests in 23 cities during the past three months. Of those arrested, 1,053 were in the country illegally.

More similar "surge operations" will take place in Las Vegas and the region, Curry said.

"We cover all areas; it's not limited to Las Vegas proper. Nevada, Utah and Arizona, where it is easy for members to go from one state to another to avoid apprehension, we're there too," he said.

Family members who protect gang members and do not cooperate with authorities are also at risk of deportation through the initiative if they are not in the United States legally, Curry said.

The ICE arrests are just a "drop in the bucket" of Las Vegas' larger gang scene, said Las Vegas police Lt. Christopher Darcy, who is acting captain for the Metropolitan Police Department's Gang Crime Bureau.

A gang is defined by police as a group of three or more people engaging in criminal activity. Police have said 300 identified gangs operate in the valley.

"The gang issue isn't something we can arrest our way out of," Darcy said. "It's a local problem. When you live in a neighborhood where a bunch of gang members are your neighbors, the problem is in the neighborhood, the issue is local."

The newest trend facing investigators is a "hybrid gang" phenomenon in which young people join more than one gang to show their allegiance to several groups. They might be in one gang at school and another in their neighborhood, he said.

"A lot of them are young and tend to be more violent in the crimes they commit. They use their guns more to earn the respect of the older gang members," he said.

For the year, 1,085 have been arrested for gang-related activity in Las Vegas, and police have seized 227 guns from gang members, Darcy said.

At this time last year, more arrests had been made. Darcy attributed the decline to a change in focus; instead of trying to apprehend everyone, Las Vegas police are working with church leaders and community organizers combat gang activity by keeping youngsters off the streets.

Providing youths with opportunities outside of the thug lifestyle can detour them from joining gangs, Darcy said.

New initiatives have proven successful, he said. A 38 percent decline in gang-related shootings has occurred this year, he said.

Contact reporter Beth Walton at bwalton@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0279.

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