“Hands on the car!! Hands on the car!!” “Guys! Come to the railing!! Come to the railing!!”
The urgent commands were coming from heavily armed agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And the people quickly putting their hands up or onto the vehicle are not along the Mexican border, as one might expect with ICE, but in cities all over the country.
For the past two months, ICE, working with local law enforcement, nabbed hundreds of alleged gang members with transnational ties to major drug-smuggling cartels. Operation Southern Tempest had one goal: disrupt the dealing of cocaine, crack, meth and pot in American neighborhoods.
“These are not simply drug dealers,” ICE Director John Morton told Fox News. “We are talking about violent street gangs that are involved with everything from murder to theft to racketeering.”
Morton is announcing the results of his nationwide sweep through more than a hundred U.S. cities today at 12:30 p.m. (EST).
In a couple of raids in Miami, Fox News had exclusive access, joining agents as they planned their raids, first on dry erase boards, then out on the streets, expecting resistance and possible firefights as they jumped out of their vehicles and chased down alleged gang members. Morton says, more and more, drug smuggling cartels in Mexico, Central America and South America are selling in discounted bulk to established gangs in the U.S. Those gangs include MS-13, the Latin Kings, Bloods and Crips, who then break the drugs down into $20 bags, $50 bags and $100 bags of coke, meth and pot and sell them to drug users in American cities. When the gang members are not U.S. citizens, federal law allows for relatively quick deportation.
“We can move very quickly if the people have a criminal record and are here unlawfully,” says Morton. “That’s one of the reasons that ICE does so much of this gang work and why we are such a critical player at the federal level because we not only bring the full array of criminal arrest powers -- criminal investigation powers -- we also have our civil immigration powers.”
Morton says the majority of those arrested in Operation Southern Tempest were foreign nationals and half had violent criminal histories.
According to ICE, the nationwide transnational sweep nabbed 678 gang members in 168 cities. About 250 of those arrested were U.S. citizens; 80 guns were confiscated as well as $70,000 in cash.
Phil Keating joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in March 2004 and currently serves as FNC's Miami-based correspondent.