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Suburban gang members targeted in federal immigration raids
By Barbara Vitello | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 7/19/2008 12:06 AM

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Ten Northwest suburban police departments, four sheriff departments and one Department of Homeland Security agency added up to bad news for 48 undocumented immigrants arrested this week as part of "Operation Community Shield," the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency's nationwide initiative targeting foreign-born members of street gangs.

A total of 49 people were arrested in the operation which involved police departments from Addison, Bensenville, Elgin, Mount Prospect, West Chicago and Wheeling, among others. Forty-eight of the arrestees were undocumented. One is a permanent resident whose convictions make him eligible for deportation. Forty-two have criminal histories with arrests and convictions for drunken driving, drug possession, aggravated batter, burglary, theft and domestic battery. Two are not affiliated with gangs but are eligible for deportation because they are in the country illegally.

Among those arrested in West Chicago was 23-year-old Mauricio Vega-Cruz, a reputed gang banger deported to Mexico last year, who subsequently returned to the U.S. Authorities said Elgin arrests included 20-year-old gang member Valentin Sierra-Martinez, whose record includes convictions for residential burglary and domestic battery, among others.

Since its inception in 2005, Operation Community Shield has resulted in the arrest of more than 8,900 gang members nationwide.

"We work closely with police departments and their gang units, which have the on-the-ground knowledge of gang threats in their community," said I.C.E. spokeswoman Gail Montenegro.

Investigations commander Bill Stutzman of the Wheeling Police Department said specific criteria determines who the authorities target.

"They have to be a known gang member and have a felony conviction," said Stutzman. "Those are the individuals we're targeting."

Wheeling police typically cooperate with I.C.E. several times a year on these operations, supplying background information on targeted individuals, tactical support and backing up I.C.E. agents making the arrests, police said.

This marks the third time in the last 11 months that I.C.E. has partnered with suburban law enforcement agencies to arrest and deport members of transnational gangs under "Operation Community Shield." In December, ICE and authorities from Carpentersville, Bensenville, Cary, Lake Zurich and West Dundee arrested 21 undocumented immigrants, 16 of whom had ties to area gangs.

Another joint operation in August 2007 involving Waukegan, Mundelein and Round Lake police departments resulted in arrests of 58 individuals, 37 of whom were undocumented.

Montenegro said some deportations could begin immediately, especially of those who have been previously deported. Other deportations may involve an appearance before an immigration judge and take several weeks.