- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 30, 2005

Federal officials yesterday announced they have arrested 25 illegal aliens in Montgomery County as part of a three-day operation to remove criminal aliens from the United States.

Fourteen of the 25 aliens arrested were fugitives that already had been ordered to be deported by immigration officials. Ernestine Fobbs, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, said those 14 will be deported.

“In a sense, they’re gone,” she said. “They’ve had their chance.”

ICE agents arrested most of the illegals — all adults — in Bethesda, Burtonsville, Gaithersburg and Rockville, officials said. They had come from several countries, including China, Dominica, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Korea and Nicaragua.

Five have criminal records in the United States, including charges of assault, robbery with a deadly weapon and resisting arrest. Officials also arrested 11 other illegals during the course of Operation Fortitude, which began Monday and targeted the fugitives.

“We sought out the identified targets and when we found some of those targets they were in the company of other illegal aliens,” said Calvin McCormick, field office director for ICE in Baltimore.

Officials said one of the 11 was released after having bond posted for him, and four others were released on their own recognizance. They will now be ordered to show up for immigration proceedings at a later date.

ICE officials said they determine who will be released on a case-by-case basis. For example, one of the four released on her own recognizance is a mother who needed to take care of her child.

“There are situations in the process where a person may be entitled to release [instead of] being detained,” Miss Fobbs said. “Each one of these cases they look at and evaluate.”

A study released last month by the Pew Hispanic Center estimated there are between 200,000 and 250,000 illegal aliens in Maryland.

In April, another group of 11 illegal aliens who were released by federal authorities after a traffic stop in Fairfax County failed to show up for immigration proceedings. Officials said they have since re-encountered just one of the original group.

Mr. McCormick said efforts such as Operation Fortitude, which combined agents from Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia, will help restore the integrity of the country’s immigration system. ICE currently has 16 teams nationwide designed to identify, locate and apprehend fugitive aliens.

“A lot of illegal aliens, especially criminal aliens, have taken a position that maybe no one is out looking for them,” Mr. McCormick said. “We are definitely sending a message: we are out on the streets, we are out looking for these people.”

Officials have estimated there are as many as 10 million illegal aliens in the country and about 465,000 of them are criminal fugitives. This fiscal year, ICE officials have removed more than 75,500 aliens from the United States, including more than 45,000 criminal aliens.

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