ICE Sting Nabs Hundreds of Gang Members Across the Country

Over the past two months, an unprecedented joint operation with federal agents and local police targeted dangerous street gang organizations with connections to Latin American and international drug trafficking networks in 168 U.S. cities.

Overall, 678 gang members and associates from 133 different gangs were arrested during the operation, dubbed "Southern Tempest," according to ICE Director John Morton.

"Gang members are not the kind of people we want walking our streets. They are not productive, law-abiding members of our community," Morton said in an interview with FOX. " They are involved in violent organizations that are increasingly not only affecting the public safety of the communities within which they find themselves, but are increasingly involved in transnational crime particularly drug trafficking."

The major focus of the operation was cracking down on violent gang members who have direct ties to drug trade. The gangs ranged from MS-13, the Sueros and Latin Kings to the Mexican Mafia and even Russian and Asian organizations.

Out of the gang members arrested, 322 of them had criminal histories and 421 were foreign nationals.

"We are witnessing a move by the violent street gangs to consolidate their control and involvement in drug trafficking in their particular communities – and they're doing that by teaming up with drug trafficking organizations overseas in Mexico and Central America," Morton said.

"They obtain cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine at a lower wholesale rate. They undercut their traditional local competitors through the bulk drugs that they're able to purchase through their relationship with the cartels," he added.

During the operation agents seized 86 firearms, eight pounds of methamphetamine, 30 pounds of marijuana, one pound of cocaine, and more than $70,000, according to ICE.

Raids were executed on locations as diverse as Salt Lake City, Miami, Chicago and Puerto Rico.

During "Southern Tempest," ICE has arrested 20,000 gang member since it first started to focus on breaking up gang activity in 2005.

Since ICE is increasingly using deportation as a law enforcement tool to dismantle gang organizations, they have received some criticism from immigrant advocates who worry that agents are deporting people without minor criminal histories and little proof of gang ties.

"Listen, we are a very welcoming country. We welcome legal immigrants, by the hundreds of thousands every year," Morton said. "This country has an enviable record of legal immigration. We are a country of immigrants. We have a great record. What we're not about, however, is welcoming people who want to come here unlawfully and want to commit crimes."

Serafin Gómez is the Miami Bureau Producer for FOX News Channel.Fox News’ Kathleen Reuschle & Mike Levine contributed to this report.

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