Thursday, April 14, 2005

Eleven illegal aliens who were released by federal authorities after a traffic stop in Fairfax County on Sunday did not show up for immigration proceedings yesterday.

“None of them came back, and I think that the fact that these aliens failed to appear showed the challenges of immigration enforcement,” said Manny Van Pelt, a spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

Mr. Van Pelt said about 30 percent of illegal aliens who are ordered to appear for immigration proceedings fail to show up. Of those who do appear, about 85 percent become fugitives if a judge orders them to be deported.

“We know full well that the honor system doesn’t work and it doesn’t make our job any easier when we’re trying to focus on violent criminal aliens and trying to thwart terrorism,” he said.

ICE officials had ordered the 11 Mexican nationals, three of whom are children, to show up for further immigration processing at the ICE agency in Northern Virginia yesterday morning. A Fairfax County police officer had found the aliens riding in a Dodge Ram van early Sunday morning when the officer had stopped the vehicle for making an illegal U-turn in Annandale.

That morning, ICE officials processed the aliens, but later released them and told them to appear at the ICE offices yesterday. Officials had said they did not know where the aliens were staying in the meantime.

There are about 465,000 fugitive illegals nationwide, Mr. Van Pelt said. ICE officials deported 157,281 aliens nationwide last year, he said.

“In this case, none of these aliens were criminals or threats to national security,” he said. “We’re committed to enforcing immigration law, but do we go after terrorists or gangs like [Mara Salvatrucha] to keep another 9/11 from happening, or do we go after day laborers? It’s a challenge that requires balance and prioritizing.”

Federal authorities will now issue a notice that will be sent to an address the aliens had given to ICE officials. If the aliens do not show up at any immigration proceedings, a judge will issue an order for their deportation.

The illegals will have 30 days to appeal the deportation ruling before federal authorities input the aliens’ personal information into the National Crime Information Center as “fugitive absconders.”

Any law-enforcement officials who come in contact with them would be allowed under the law to detain them until they are turned over into ICE custody and eventually deported.

Virginia state law allows local law-enforcement officials to only detain illegal aliens if they are suspected of a crime, have been previously convicted of a felony or have been previously deported or left the U.S. and returned illegally.

However, once the aliens are declared fugitives, any law-enforcement official can detain them and turn them over to ICE.

“They essentially forfeit their right to due process and if law enforcement comes in contact with them, they will be apprehended and placed into detention until they are removed,” Mr. Van Pelt said.

The non-appearance by the 11 illegal aliens yesterday did not surprise state lawmakers.

“It seems so obvious to me that no one would show up,” said Delegate David B. Albo, Fairfax County Republican. “It just highlights how much the federal government has completely dropped the ball on this whole issue. They get their hands on 11 [aliens] and they can’t even grab them and throw them out of the country.”

Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick on Wednesday didn’t expect the illegals to return for yesterday’s court date.

“Yeah, right,” the Prince William County Republican said. “When are we going to stop encouraging illegal activity?”

Delegate Vivian E. Watts, Fairfax County Democrat, said Wednesday the law limiting local officials in detaining illegal aliens is necessary to prevent illegals from being victimized by other criminals.

“The issue there is while you could be deported based on a felony record, in this instance, these individuals have not committed any felony,” Mrs. Watts said. “If immigrants fear that they can be deported then they are very vulnerable to being victimized by people who are committing crimes” because they would not go to the police.

• Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report.

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