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Immigration officials nab 6 on LI with gang ties

Immigration authorities arrested six undocumented immigrants on Long Island - 16 in the New York region overall - as part of a national crackdown on gang members and their associates.

Dubbed "Project Big Freeze," the crackdown in 83 cities was part of the Department of Homeland Security's focus on undocumented immigrants with serious criminal records or gang affiliations.

All six of those nabbed on Long Island were members of the MS-13 gang, said Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman Lou Martinez.

Of the 517 people netted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, 151 were U.S. citizens and 366 were foreign nationals who face deportation. Of those arrested, 207 were for criminal offenses including narcotics, firearms and identity theft violations; 41 were for administrative immigration violations only.

A series of ICE raids on Long Island in 2007 sparked an outcry among some officials because they led to arrests of undocumented immigrants with no criminal records or gang ties. Nassau Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey took a public stance against the raids; Suffolk officials stood behind them. Neither Mulvey nor Suffolk Police Commissioner Richard Dormer would comment on Big Freeze but both departments said they had not been asked to participate in any of the recent raids.

Two of the recent New York arrests were under Big Freeze; the other 14 were related to a gang initiative in place since 2005.

The arrests - combined with the sentencing last Friday of MS-13 member Hector Portillo in Eastern District Court to 38 years in prison - send "a strong message that the government as a whole is working together to reduce the threat" posed by those with gang affiliations, said New York ICE office Special Agent in Charge James T. Hayes Jr.

Hayes said seven of the 16 arrested in New York were tied to threats on the life of an ICE agent and two were tied to threats on an NYPD officer in a gang unit. Two of the Long Island arrests were people who had already been deported and had returned illegally, Martinez said, committing a re-entry felony that could mean up to 20 years in federal prison.

ICE declined to say how many people had been targeted in the recent operation.

Using raids "works because they get some of the bad guys," said Sister Margaret Smyth of the Hispanic Apostolate of the North Fork. "So the question becomes, How can they do it better so they're not also pulling in people who have no problems?"

With Sumathi Reddy

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