ICE and local police are targeting international gang members from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, using a wider array of charges that can be brought with deportation as a law enforcement tool.
The Latin American gangs, or “maras,” spread to the United States in the 1980s as civil unrest broke out in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Members recruited in California prisons and formed well known groups such as MS-13 and Sur-13, Mangione said.
Gang members often recruit poor immigrants with the promise of money, new clothes and flashy cars, he said.
“It’s a growing problem,” he said. “We have an emerging immigrant population, so there’s more of a community to prey on.”
The bust of Krazy Locos, of the Boynton Beach and Lake Worth area, shows how local and foreign gang alliances play out in the streets of Palm Beach County.
A group of Lake Worth-area youths formed Krazy Locos in 2001, and later teamed up with Sur-13, according to court records. Krazy Locos sought the protection of Sur-13 in Florida prisons and in the Palm Beach County neighborhoods they controlled.
Over the years, the Krazy Locos have been accused of sparking violence throughout the county with drive-by shootings, murders, drug trafficking and racketeering, according to court records.
Law enforcement officers also count victories in thwarting gangs from gaining traction in the region. Immigration agents have helped keep the MS-13 from gaining strength in Broward, according to Sgt. Dan Fitzpatrick of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Gang Investigations Unit.
ICE can arrest and deport undocumented immigrants identified as gang members within days, even if they can’t build a criminal case, Fitzpatrick said.
“When we don’t know what we can charge them with, ICE brings them in and we can get them out of here,” Fitzpatrick said.
Immigration agents can arrest people without criminal charges if they are identified as illegal immigrants, according to ICE. If agents also identify them as gang members, an immigration judge can take that into consideration during the deportation hearings.
Investigators rely on informants, gang symbols, tattoos, graffiti and criminal associations to help identify gang members, among other criteria.
Deporting people without building criminal cases against them concerns immigration advocates, who question whether it’s effective. Aileen Josephs, an immigration attorney and honorary consul of Guatemala to Palm Beach County, says the gang problem will continue if members don’t serve prison time.