- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Federal agents rounded up 1,808 criminal aliens, immigration fugitives and immigration violators during a monthlong effort in six states, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials said Monday.

Most of those apprehended by a multistate partnership of the agency’s Fugitive Operations Teams have been removed from the United States or face imminent deportation.

“ICE is committed to protecting the integrity of our immigration system,” said Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers, who heads ICE. “These enforcement operations ensure that the removal orders handed down by the nation’s immigration courts are carried out.

“Because of similar successful operations, we are seeing for the first time a marked decrease in the fugitive alien population,” she said. “America will always welcome those who wish to enter our country legally, but for those who flaunt our laws, know that you will be removed.”

Criminal aliens - foreign nationals who commit crimes in the United States - are a growing threat to public safety and national security, as well as a drain on the nation’s criminal justice resources, ICE said.

In 1980, federal and state prisons housed fewer than 9,000 criminal aliens. That number jumped to 68,000 in 1999 and, today, criminal aliens account for more than 29 percent of the inmates housed in the federal prison system. They are the fastest-growing segment of the federal prison population.

Over the past five years, an average of more than 72,000 criminal aliens have been arrested annually on drug charges alone.

ICE established its Fugitive Operations Program in 2003 to eliminate the nation’s backlog of immigration fugitives and ensure that deportation orders were enforced. In fiscal 2007, which ended Sept. 30, the teams arrested 30,408 people nationwide - up from 15,462 in fiscal 2006.

The agency currently maintains 75 active teams, up from 52 at the end of fiscal 2006, and another 29 teams will be added by the end of September. Two of those teams are located within ICE’s Baltimore field office.

ICE spokesman Richard A. Rocha said that during 2007, the nation’s fugitive alien population declined for the first time and continues to do so - in large part due to the work of the Fugitive Operations Teams and the Fugitive Operations Support Center, which helps to clear outstanding cases.

Mr. Rocha said estimates place the number of immigration fugitives in the United States at 573,000, a decrease of nearly 60,000 since October 2006.

He said that in the most recent operation, of the 1,808 people arrested in California, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Tennessee and Texas, 1,069 were immigration fugitives. An immigration fugitive is someone who has ignored a final order of deportation or who has returned to the United States illegally after being removed.

More than 70 percent of the aliens taken into custody had criminal histories in addition to being in the country illegally, Mr. Rocha said.

He said the teams prioritized cases involving immigration violators who posed a threat to national security and community safety, including sex offenders, suspected gang members and those convicted of violent crimes.

Among those arrested in the latest operation, he said, was a previously deported Mexican national convicted in the mid-1990s of lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14. Mariano Ceja-Ochoa, 31, was taken into custody by ICE officers in Dana Point, Calif., and faces a felony charge of re-entry after deportation, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

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