- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The federal government has spent $204 million since 2003 to hunt down and remove fugitive aliens from the United States, but it has shown little success in slowing down a burgeoning number of aliens now hiding in cities and towns across America.

More than 623,000 fugitive aliens or “absconders” are loose on the streets of America, according to a report issued yesterday by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General — up from 331,000 after the September 11 attacks and 418,000 in 2003.

Despite the deployment by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of 50 Fugitive Operations Teams nationwide with the “immediate mission” to eliminate the growing backlog of fugitive aliens — those ordered deported but who have disappeared — it has increased annually since the program’s February 2002 inception.

“The fugitive alien population is growing at a rate that exceeds the teams’ ability to apprehend,” said Inspector General Richard L. Skinner, noting the teams’ inability “to keep pace with the increase in the backlog of fugitive aliens, not to mention reduce it.”

Mr. Skinner said the backlog of fugitive aliens increased an average of 51,228 each year over a four-year period ending September 2005, and that from October 2005 to August 2006, the number jumped by 86,648.

The 68-page report said the effectiveness of fugitive teams was hampered by insufficient detention capacity, limitations of an immigration database and inadequate working space.

It also found that the teams were called on to perform duties unrelated to fugitive operations, contrary to ICE policy. Those duties included serving as firearms instructors, juvenile coordinators, jail inspectors, escorting aliens to their country of origin or from local jails to an ICE facility, taking bonds, escorting special-interest aliens to court appearances, and managing the detained and non-detained dockets.

“While team members are performing non-fugitive operations duties, they are unable to identify, locate or apprehend fugitives,” Mr. Skinner said.

He said that as of March 2006, there were 11.5 million to 12 million illegal aliens living in the United States and that by August 2006, ICE estimated a backlog of 623,292 fugitive aliens. He said fugitive aliens made up 5.4 percent of the illegal-alien population.

Mr. Skinner also noted that weekly field office reports sent to ICE headquarters did not always reflect accurately what the fugitive teams had done, adding that they sometimes included apprehensions made by other law-enforcement agencies or cases closed because of an alien’s death, voluntary departure from the country or change to legal status.

John P. Torres, director of the ICE Office of Detention and Removal Operations (DRO), said that while the agency agreed with many of the recommendations in the report and had implemented several, Mr. Skinner’s office had failed to take into account “many of the positive steps already independently taken by DRO to address” problems within the agency.

The mission of the fugitive teams is to identify, locate, apprehend, process and remove fugitive aliens from the country with the highest priority being those who have been convicted of crimes, including killers, rapists, drug dealers and child molesters.

Coordinated through an ICE initiative known as the National Fugitive Operations Program, the teams translate to about 500 agents looking for more than 623,000 alien fugitives hiding in cities from Seattle and Los Angeles to Miami and Washington.

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