- The Washington Times - Friday, June 17, 2005

Nearly 200 criminal aliens illegally in the United States were arrested during a weeklong operation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in New England after officials targeted convicted foreign nationals who disappeared while awaiting deportation hearings.

The arrests, said Department of Homeland Assistant Secretary Michael J. Garcia, are part of an escalating crackdown on violent criminal aliens living throughout the nation.

“To those criminal aliens who have eluded apprehension in the past, be forewarned: ICE agents will seek you out, apprehend you and remove you from the United States,” said Mr. Garcia, who heads ICE. “This is a priority mission for us and these arrests will send that message.”

Dozens of ICE agents, assisted by state and local authorities, took the criminal aliens into custody during raids in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine as part of Operation FLASH, or Fellow Law-enforcement Agencies Securing the Homeland.. It was the largest criminal alien operation ever conducted by the agency.

One of the aliens was arrested in Baltimore on a referral from Boston.

“We initiated Operation FLASH to remove dangerous criminal aliens from our streets,” said Bruce E. Chadbourne, ICE field office director in Boston. “By finding and removing these fugitives, we are able to greatly enhance the public safety of New England and restore integrity to our nation’s immigration system.”

Operation FLASH is part of an ongoing effort by ICE to identify and arrest fugitive criminal aliens who were ordered removed from the country by a federal immigration judge, but who failed to comply.

About 80,000 criminal aliens are thought to be among an estimated 400,000 “absconders,” foreign nationals who were ordered deported but disappeared, in the country.

Many of those arrested in the New England sweep have long histories of violent criminal activity, including child molestation, rape, arson, assault, armed robbery and threatening murder.

Mr. Garcia said Operation FLASH was a combined effort among federal, state, county and local law-enforcement agencies across New England, led by ICE fugitive operations teams from Baltimore; Newark, N.J.; New York City; Philadelphia; Hartford, Conn.; Boston; Manchester, N.H.; St. Albans, Vt..; Providence, R.I.; and Portland, Maine.

He said the arrests were a result of “enhanced funding and the dedication of team members” as part of ICE’s National Fugitive Operations Program (NFOP), whose assignment is to identify, locate, apprehend, process and remove fugitive aliens from the United States “with the highest priority placed on those who have been convicted of crimes.”

“NFOP’s goal is to eliminate the backlog of fugitives and ensure that the number of aliens deported equals the number of final orders of removal issued by the immigration courts in any given year,” said Mr. Garcia, noting that ICE removed a record 160,000 aliens from the country last year and 75,500 so far this year including more than 45,000 criminal aliens.

ICE has 18 fugitive operations teams nationwide, although President Bush’s 2006 fiscal budget seeks $8.8 million in enhanced funding to increase that number nationwide. Mr. Garcia said he hopes to triple the number of teams in the next two years.

“We’re looking for real reductions in the number of criminal aliens on the street,” he said. “Because of the scope of the problem, we have needed to match that with resources and that’s what we have done.”

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