Strike force focused on illegal immigrants releases results

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A new strike force in Utah aimed at targeting illegal immigrants involved in major crimes says it has been busy in only the first four months of its existence.

Earlier this year, the Utah Legislature appropriated federal funding to go to the SECURE Strike Force. It has two years to crack down on major crimes committed by illegal immigrants. The team received federal funding to target only the hardened criminals.

At a press conference Wednesday morning, representatives from each agency talked about their combined effort to catch these criminals. ICE, along with the Department of Public Safety, and local law enforcement all participated in trying to stop identity theft, human and drug trafficking and violent crimes.

The agencies made it clear the average undocumented worker wasn't the target here, only those criminals who pose the greatest threat to the public.

**By the numbers… "Operation Community Shield"**
• 2 "Gang Surge Operations" • 76 arrests of gang members and associates • 36 felony charges ranging from murder to drug possession • 40 deported
Rep. Brad Dee, R-District 11, "We're not after the fry cook or the maid or those particular people that happen to be working here. This is for the hardened criminal."

That's what makes this project different than Senate Bill 81, a law passed in 2008 that requires state agencies to verify legal residency for people applying for public benefits.

Despite controversy and many local agencies refusing to enforce it, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff repeated his support of the bill.

"Senate Bill 81 is the law. We expect it to be enforced completely and fully. I'm sure they're going to do that," he said.

The agencies involved say they wouldn't have caught these criminals without help from other Latinos.

"One of the greatest cooperative efforts we've seen is from the Latino community. From the good, hard-working people in our community that are very concerned about crime," Chief Ken Wallentine, with the attorney general's office, said.

He said every community in the state wanted to get rid of those dealing drugs, guns and extortion no matter what their citizenship status was.

"If we were to go to Glendale and speak to Mr. Ramos and Mr. Rivera, he'd be just as concerned about drugs and violence in his neighborhood as Mr. Smith or Mr. Snow on the east bench," he said.

**What is… the SECURE Strike Force?**
The *SECURE Strike Force* was launched by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff in June of 2009 to target major crimes by undocumented aliens; namely human trafficking, violent and major financial crimes. The strike force will also have a Fraudulent Documents Identification Unit to investigate and prosecute individuals who sell or distribute fake ID cards for people who are not lawfully living in Utah. The multi-agency strike force will combine the skills and resources of federal, state and local law enforcement officers.
In the first four months the strike force has arrested 76 gang members, broken up fake identify cards manufacturing operations, and even busted [a fake dentist, Raul Antonio Garay, in American Fork]( who it first target because of drugs.

"In this same case, we found also a number of weapons seized, drugs. These are not single focus criminals," Wallentine said.

One of the biggest cases it uncovered was a document mill in West Valley City. Investigators said Martin Parada-Contreras was stealing identities and creating more than 1,000 social security cards for illegal workers.

"Take these Social Security cards -- I made the comment, that's better than my Social Security card," Wallentine said of the case.

Investigators said the criminal was stealing identities and creating more than a thousand Social Security cards for illegal workers.

In another case, authorities said the owners of North Star Auto, Cesar Rivera and Judith Rivera, committed communications fraud and forgery by creating car loans using fake Social Security numbers, driver licenses and tax information.

The federal money is not going to last forever, though. The grant funding is $891,000 per year for a two year period, totaling $1,782,000. Legislators say if these results continue, they'll keep asking for more money.

"We're going to step up to the plate and provide that public safety for the people of Utah," Rep. Dee said.

For now, the force has 19 more months of funding to crack down on major crimes committed by illegal immigrants.

Composed with contributions from Nicole Gonzalesand Randall Jeppesen.


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