Posted on September 23, 2005

U.S. Finds New Way to Target Gangs

Gina Barton and Georgia Pabst, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Sept. 19

Federal officials are using a new weapon to target a violent street gang on the city’s south side: immigration.

The Mexican Posse has been gaining strength since its members started organizing in Milwaukee in 1997 or 1998, according to Gary Graika, director of the Milwaukee Violence-Free Zone at the Latino Community Center.

“Today, the Mexican Posse may be the largest and potentially most notorious gang on the south side,” said Graika, who has worked with gangs and gang diversion programs in the city for years.

Twenty-one of the Mexican Posse’s local members were rounded up earlier this year as part of Operation Community Shield, a national initiative led by the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In the past, Milwaukee gang roundups — such as the one that temporarily decimated the Latin Kings — have led to complex trials based on federal racketeering laws. This time, authorities have started by arresting gang members for being in the country illegally, then charging them with misdemeanors.

The charges, though minor, could have benefits for law enforcement if the defendants commit more crimes in the future. At every sentencing hearing in federal court, the judge must consider past criminal history. The more extensive the criminal record, the longer the punishment for the new offense. Also, immigrants who re-enter the United States after having been deported previously may be charged with a new felony just for coming back. The maximum sentence for that crime ranges from two years to 20, depending on the defendant’s criminal record.