California Attorney General Xavier Becerra didn’t quite share President Donald Trump’s sentiments on the gang MS-13, but he came close.
“When you talk about maiming human life, scarring them to the point that you don’t recognize them, I don’t know if you would call them human beings,” Becerra said at a news conference to announce the arrest of 25 MS-13 gang members in an operation in Mendota.
Becerra spoke Friday (Aug. 31) at the federal courthouse in downtown Fresno, along with federal and local law enforcement officials, following a year-long, multi-agency investigation.
Trump notably called the gang “animals” in a White House meeting that included Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims in May. Trump’s remarks caused a backlash at that time.
Becerra, as attorney general, had led California’s “resistance” to Trump’s policies on immigration, healthcare, and the environment in speeches and in the courtroom. In 2017, California sued the Trump administration 24 times.
The 25 arrested, in what law enforcement dubbed Operation Blue Inferno, are being charged with 14 murders, as well as kidnapping and drug trafficking in the Mendota area.
“This is a good day. An extremely violent street gang, which has terrorized western Fresno County, has been completely dismantled,” U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott said.
Mims detailed some of the horrific allegations against the gang.
“Most (homicides) were as a result of machete and knife attacks, rendering their victims visually unidentifiable,” Mims said. “Bodies are then left out in the open, sending a message of intimidation to our communities.”
Law enforcement served 19 search warrants on Thursday in Mendota, Kerman and Los Angeles. Also, a search of 37 cells in 11 state prisons yielded contraband such as cell phones, drugs, and weapons.
“Yesterday was D-Day for this investigation,” Scott said. “Nothing like this happens without the complete dedication, hard work, and professionalism of a core team of law enforcement professionals.”
Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp said she would prosecute 11 members in county court next week. Others face federal charges.
Immigration Status Vague
Scott did not reveal the immigration status of the 25 alleged gang members arrested. President Trump has blamed America’s immigration policies for the influx of gangs like MS-13. The gang’s history traces to Central America.
“This was not an immigration operation. This was a law enforcement criminal operation,” Scott deflected.
Homeland Security Investigation Special Agent Ryan Spradlin said his department’s role is to undertake criminal investigations.
“The victims of violent criminal organizations first concern isn’t where their assailants are from. It is that they are taken off the streets, and justice be delivered,” Spradlin said.
“Often misperceptions exist that HSI’s involvement in an operation like this is a nexus to illegal immigration,” Spradlin said. “Our partners know that HSI doesn’t initiate nor participate in criminal investigations because of someone’s citizenship, but rather the alleged criminal activity they are involved with.”
Becerra wanted the focus to remain on the criminal allegations, not MS-13’s country of origin.
“This is not an operation based on color, creed, origin or status. It was based on criminal conduct,” Becerra said.