Byline: Alicia A. Caldwell
WASHINGTON -- More than 600 suspected gang members have been arrested in the Homeland Security Department's largest crackdown on street gangs, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Thursday.
ICE agents, along with local authorities in 179 cities, arrested 638 suspected gang members over a monthlong period in March and April.
ICE said 78 suspected gang members were arrested on federal charges while 447 others currently face only state charges. ICE arrested 113 others on administrative immigration charges.
More than 400 of those arrested had violent criminal histories, including seven people wanted on murder charges. ICE did not identify all those arrested or the charges they face.
''These are bad people with bad motives from bad organizations,'' said Thomas Winkowski, the principal deputy assistant secretary for ICE.
Arrests were made across the country, including in Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Maryland and New Mexico.
The latest crackdown, dubbed ''Project Southbound,'' is part of a larger initiative started in 2005 to target street gangs with international ties. Since the effort, ICE says it has arrested more than 33,000 suspected gang members.
Winkowski said nearly three-quarters of the suspected gang members arrested in the latest operation belonged to the Surenos, or Sur 13, street gangs.
The Surenos, an umbrella group of street gangs with ties to Latin America that includes gangs such as the ultraviolent Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, originated in Southern California and has members across the country. Its members and affiliates are considered ''foot soldiers'' for the Mexican Mafia criminal organization, Winkowski said.
In its 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, the Justice Department said the Sur 13 gangs are expanding...