- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2005

Federal immigration officials have caught 11 illegal aliens while searching for 11 others who had been released after a traffic stop in Fairfax County in April.

Authorities found the 11 aliens in at least two residences in Woodbridge and at a restaurant in Northern Virginia, officials said. The arrests led them to begin a criminal investigation into the harboring of aliens in the Washington area.

Meanwhile, officials used toll records from a cell phone to locate an illegal alien who was released with 10 others discovered by a Fairfax County Police officer in Annandale.

“We were out looking for him,” said Ernestine Fobbs, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “This was a case where we encountered him again, and he came into our custody.”

The alien — a Guatemalan native — has been processed and is awaiting an immigration hearing, officials said.

A Fairfax County Police officer found 11 aliens — three of whom are children — riding in a Dodge Ram van April 10, when the officer stopped the vehicle for making an illegal U-turn in Annandale.

Police arrested the driver of the van in connection with the incident, and ICE officials said they released the aliens because they were not considered to be threats to society.

Immigration officials ordered the group to show up for processing at the ICE agency in Northern Virginia on April 14. None of the aliens showed up for the proceedings, and officials said they were not surprised by the nonappearance.

“That’s the immigration process, the court process,” said Manny Van Pelt, a spokesman for ICE. “It’s based upon the aliens going into court when they’re issued a notice to appear, and that’s part of the reason why there are 465,000 fugitive absconders.”

Two days after the incident in Fairfax County, Virginia State Police found 12 illegal aliens riding in a van on Interstate 95, south of Fredericksburg, where a trooper stopped the vehicle for a traffic violation.

In that case, the aliens came primarily from El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico.

Officials said they deported one juvenile April 15, and two illegal aliens have been charged with felony re-entry after deportation and are awaiting trial.

Officials released one infant who is a U.S. citizen. The infant’s mother and a pregnant woman also were released and given notices to appear in court. The other seven illegal aliens are in ICE custody and awaiting a hearing.

The two drivers of the van have been charged with transporting illegal aliens and are awaiting trial, officials said.

The recent incidents have highlighted the challenges of immigration enforcement, as officials say they are forced to prioritize who will be immediately detained for immigration proceedings and possible deportation.

“The main focus that we have here is we are working aggressively to protect national security here in the United States,” Miss Fobbs said. “If they are people who it’s mandatory to place in custody, we will place them in custody.”

Mr. Van Pelt said about 30 percent of illegal aliens who are released and 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.

John Frecker, a vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents about 10,000 nonsupervisory Border Patrol employees, said incidents like the one that occurred in Fairfax County are “demoralizing” to Border Patrol agents.

“I can just think of how it must be for agents down there catching aliens and having someone else turn around and let them go,” he said. “It’s most discouraging.”

Mr. Frecker said allowing local law-enforcement officials to arrest and detain illegal aliens simply for their illegal status would ease the burden on immigration officials.

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

“The ideal situation would be where ICE, the Border Patrol and everyone else had enough resources and weren’t overwhelmed and could go out and pick these people up,” Mr. Frecker said. “It’s a massive problem.”


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