Surenos gang members targeted nationwide in Project Southbound


Suspected gang members were rounded up by the hundreds in a massive federal crackdown called "Project Southbound," targeting one of the largest international criminal street gangs, the Surenos, or Sur 13.

"It's an umbrella group here in Los Angeles, the Surenos gang -- 'Surenos' is Spanish for 'southerners' -- but it's the street gangs that affiliate with the prison gang the Mexican Mafia," said ICE Special Agent in Charge Claude Arnold.

More than 750 people in total were arrested during the month-long sweep dubbed Project Southbound. More than 600 of them are known gang members.

Arnold said that in Los Angeles, 132 gang members were taken off the streets. They face criminal charges and/or deportation, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The ICE crackdown stretched across the country, from L.A. to Maryland, and concluded on April 13. Authorities say more than half of the gang members arrested had violent criminal histories. Seven of them were wanted for murder, and five others were wanted for rape and sexual assault.

"Gang members tend to be one-man crime waves, so an individual gang member perpetrates a lot of crime, so for every gang member you take off the street, you're preventing a lot of crime," said Arnold.

Ninety-nine people were arrested in L.A. County; 21 in Ventura County; six in Orange County; and four in Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Fifty-four firearms were seized across the country in Project Southbound. Some suspects may be prosecuted federally for felony re-entry after deportation, according to ICE.

According to a 2011 Justice Department report, Sur 13 gangs are expanding faster than any other national gang. Its members are responsible for crimes ranging from murder to weapons- and drug-trafficking.

In L.A. the Surenos are the largest street gang. Local and federal officials are fighting to putting them out of business.

"For every gang member you take off the street, you're preventing crime. It's a fact," said Arnold.

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