2003: US Homeland Security Targets Gangs

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of Homeland Security, launches “Operation Community Shield” with the arrest of 103 Mara Salvatrucha gang members in different US cities.

Crazy Face was a kid when he joined the Mara Salvatrucha gang in Los Angeles, later he was deported back to El Salvador, a country he barely remembered. Copyright © Donna De Cesare.

Operation Community Shield is a nationwide anti-gang initiative. ICE is empowered to employ the full range of federal, state and local authorities and investigative tools to target gangs. The stated goals are to stop narcotics smuggling and money laundering, and to seize financial assets of criminal organizations. ICE also plans to work through its 54 Attaché offices overseas to cooperate with foreign governments that are also experiencing gang problems, particularly those in Central America.

The initial target of Operation Community Shield is a gang that originated in Los Angeles known as Mara Salvatrucha. The 103 MS gang members caught in the initial sweep have been accused of a wide range of crimes. Some are murder suspects. The only offense for others is illegal entry into the US. Some violence prevention activists and sociologists argue that this is a disproportionate response to the actual threat and criminal agility of this street gang.