U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested more than 2,900 convicted criminal aliens over the past week as part of Operation Cross Check, a law enforcement sweep that spread across all 50 states and four U.S. territories — the largest-ever ICE criminal alien operation.
The arrests come a month after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, bowing to pressure from immigration activists, announced that ICE would focus its interior enforcement efforts on serious criminals and delay deportation cases for most noncriminal immigrants who don’t pose a threat to the public or national security.
ICE described the arrests as part of the Obama administration’s “ongoing commitment to prioritizing the removal of criminal aliens and egregious immigration law violators.”
The operation involved more than 1,900 ICE agents from 24 field offices as well as coordination with federal, state and local law enforcement partners throughout the United States.
“The results of this targeted enforcement operation underscore ICE’s ongoing commitment and focus on the arrest and removal of convicted criminal aliens and those that game our nation’s immigration system,” said ICE Director John Morton. “Because of the tireless efforts and teamwork of ICE officers and agents in tracking down at-large criminal aliens and fugitives, there are 2,901 fewer criminal aliens in our neighborhoods across the country.”
In August, Ms. Napolitano said the agency would proceed on deportation proceedings on a case-by-case basis against illegal immigrants who met certain criteria, such as attending school, having family in the military or having primary responsibility for other family members’ care. She said has the discretion under the law to focus on “priorities” and her department and the Justice Department would review all ongoing cases to see who met the new criteria.
“This case-by-case approach will enhance public safety,” she said at the time. “Immigration judges will be able to more swiftly adjudicate high-priority cases, such as those involving convicted felons.”
All 2,901 people arrested over the past week have prior criminal convictions, including at least 1,282 with multiple charges. More than 1,600 of those arrested had felony convictions including manslaughter, attempted murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, drug trafficking and aggravated assault.
Immigration legislation has been stalled in Congress for years as Democrats and Republicans have sparred over what to include. Republicans favor stricter enforcement and a guest-worker program that would require the workers to return eventually to their home countries. Democrats want the legislation to include legalization of the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country and want a guest-worker program to include a path to citizenship.
In Operation Cross Check, 681 of those arrested were immigration fugitives who previously had been ordered to leave the country but had failed to depart. Additionally, 386 were illegal re-entrants who had been removed from the country multiple times. Because of their serious criminal histories and prior immigration arrest records, 146 of those arrested were presented to U.S. attorneys for prosecution on a variety of charges, including illegal re-entry after deportation, a felony.
ICE conducted the first successful Cross Check operation in December 2009. In May, the agency conducted its first nationwide Cross Check operation.