October 4th, 2007 05:34 EST
ICE nets more than 1,300 arrests in Los Angeles area
LOS ANGELES - More than 1,300 criminal aliens, immigration fugitives, and immigration violators have been removed from the United States or are facing deportation today following the largest special enforcement action ever carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Fugitive Operations Teams anywhere in the nation.
During the two-week operation in the Los Angeles area, which concluded yesterday, ICE officers located and arrested 530 immigration violators who were at large in five Southland counties - Los Angeles (187), Orange (62), Riverside/San Bernardino (245), and Ventura (36). Of those arrested out in the community, a total of 258 were immigration fugitives, aliens who have ignored final orders of deportation or who returned to the United States illegally after being removed. More than half of the aliens located in the community had criminal histories in addition to being in the country illegally.
As part of the enforcement effort, ICE officers also expanded their search for criminal aliens incarcerated in area jails, taking custody of 797 previously unidentified deportable foreign nationals who were scheduled for release from the county jails in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ventura counties.
The results of the special operation were announced at a news conference here today by ICE Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers. Assistant Secretary Myers pointed out that of the more than 61,000 illegal aliens arrested by ICE Fugitive Operations Teams since the first teams were created in 2003, roughly 17,331 had criminal convictions.
"ICE's Fugitive Operations Teams make a priority of cases involving those who have ignored orders to leave our country and those who pose a threat to our communities," Assistant Secretary Myers said. "The 1,300 taken into custody by ICE in the past two weeks include numerous suspected street gang members, as well as aliens convicted of sex offenses, assaults and kidnapping. Our success is two-fold - we have made our communities safer and protected the integrity of our nation's immigration system."
Among those arrested was Juan Cervantes-Gonzalez, 30, of Mexico. Cervantes, who was taken into custody without incident at his San Bernardino home September 21, is a suspected street gang member with prior convictions for transporting methamphetamine, burglary, and auto theft.
Also taken into custody during the operation was Oscar Antonio Argueta-Viera, 44, a Salvadoran national whose criminal history includes two convictions for voluntary manslaughter as well as assault with a firearm. Argueta, who was previously deported in 2003, is among the more than 45 criminal aliens arrested during the operation who are being prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office for re-entry after deportation, a felony that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. In January 2007, the ICE office of detention and removal in Los Angeles established a violent criminal alien section specifically to target these types of cases for arrest and prosecution.
"For a decade and a half, the U.S. Attorney's Office has devoted considerable resources to prosecute criminal aliens who return to this country, which has made the crime of illegal re-entry after deportation the most prosecuted offense by this office," said United States Attorney George S. Cardona. "Working with law enforcement agencies such as ICE, we hope to send a message to criminal aliens who are deported - returning to the United States may very well lead straight to a federal prison cell."
The Fugitive Operations Program was established in 2003 to eliminate the nation's backlog of immigration fugitives and ensure that deportation orders handed down by immigration judges are enforced. Earlier this year, the nation's fugitive alien population showed its first-ever decline. Estimates now place the number of immigration fugitives in the United States at slightly under 597,000, a decrease of more than 35,000 since October 2006.
Much of the credit for those results can be attributed to the rapid expansion of the program. Today, ICE has 75 Fugitive Operations Teams deployed across the country, including 23 added within the last year. There are now five fugitive operations teams permanently assigned to the greater Los Angeles area, more than any major city in the nation.
The majority of the aliens taken into custody this week in the Los Angeles area are Mexican nationals, but the group included immigration violators from 30 countries, such as Armenia, India, Indonesia, Jordan, and Peru. Since many of these individuals have already been through immigration proceedings, they are subject to immediate removal from the country. Of the aliens arrested during the past two weeks, more than 600 have already been returned to their native countries.
ICE's Fugitive Operations Program is an integral part of the comprehensive multi-year plan launched by the Department of Homeland Security to secure America's borders and reduce illegal migration. That strategy seeks to gain operational control of both the northern and southern borders, while re-engineering the detention and removal system to ensure that illegal aliens are removed from the country quickly and efficiently. The plan also involves strong interior enforcement efforts, including enhanced worksite enforcement and intensified efforts to track down and remove illegal aliens inside the United States.
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