Ten members of what’s being described as “very violent” street gang are facing federal drug trafficking and extortion charges after a series of raids by Federal and local authorities in Northern California. Officials with the Department of Homeland Security say after five years of investigating, teams of its special agents and local police officers arrested ten suspected members of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13 gang, during raids early Monday in Santa Cruz, in nearby Watsonville, and in Daly City, just outside of San Francisco. MS-13 is an international criminal gang that originated in Los Angeles before spreading to other parts of the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Central America.

Suspects believed to be involved in murders, drug trafficking

Santa Cruz Deputy Police Chief Dan Flippo says Homeland Security was the lead agency in the investigation, with the arrests being made in conjunction with Santa Cruz police and other local agencies. The suspected gang members arrested are believed to be involved in at least two murders, extortion, and trafficking of heroin and methamphetamine. The suspects -- all men between the ages of 20 and 40 -- appeared in federal court Monday afternoon after being arrested in the raids earlier in the day. Some of the suspects are facing up to 40 years in prison if convicted of all the charges against them.

Though the arrests of the suspected gang members come as federal immigration officials over the past week have arrested nearly 700 people described as “convicted criminal aliens and gang members,” Flippo says the arrests Monday in Santa Cruz and nearby were not related to those raids.

Police: 'No way an immigration raid'

"Let me be very clear, this was in no way an immigration raid,” Flippo told KSBW-TV. “We were focusing on a very violent gang that has been preying on our city streets for over a decade," he said. "This investigation into this very violent gang focused on the shootings, murders, extortion, and sales of both heroin and methamphetamine in our community," Flippo told the station.

Indeed, just last month, the Santa Cruz City Council and the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors re-declared the city and county as "sanctuaries" for illegal immigrants.