- The Washington Times - Monday, March 9, 2015

Immigration agents netted more than 2,000 illegal immigrants with serious criminal records in a major sweep last week as the administration tried to prove it can still enforce the law and find priority deportation cases even in light of President Obama’s amnesty.

More than 1,000 of those arrested had felony convictions on their records. The others were gang members, had three or more misdemeanors such as drunken driving or were otherwise deemed to be serious enough threats that they should be ousted.

It was the first major deportation push since Mr. Obama’s Nov. 20 announcement of priorities that generally place most illegal immigrants out of danger of deportation. Saying he didn’t want to separate families anymore, the president ordered immigration agents to target only felons, repeat offenders and illegal immigrants who entered the country after Jan. 1, 2014.

“These are the worst of the worst criminals,” said Sarah R. Saldana, director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

She said the arrests under Operation Cross Check are evidence that the president’s policies are working. “We will continue to focus our removal operations on violent criminals and other high-priority aliens who pose the greatest threat to our communities.”

But Mr. Obama’s amnesty is facing legal questions. A federal judge Monday ordered the administration to appear in court March 19 to explain whether it misled his court over whether amnesty applications already had been approved.

Judge Andrew S. Hanen last month issued an injunction halting the amnesty, ruling that Mr. Obama likely broke the law by instituting the policy without first asking for public reaction and comment.

Citing the seriousness of the issue, Judge Hanen said he wouldn’t rule on any other issues in front of him — including a request by the administration to stay his injunction — until he decides what to do about the applications already approved under the amnesty that expanded the years of legal status and work authorization granted to so-called Dreamers.

Mr. Obama’s policies were intended to grant rank-and-file illegal immigrants proactive protection from deportation. He said that given the limited resources for deportations, the amnesty would let agents focus instead on serious criminals and recent illegal immigrants, rather than those who have remained in the shadows for years while keeping relatively free of other criminal activity.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said agents should deport only illegal immigrants who met one of three priorities. Most pressing were felons, second were repeat immigration violators and those with multiple misdemeanors, and third were recent illegal immigrants.

Operation Cross Check, which ran March 1 through Thursday, was designed to go after illegal immigrants in those first two categories.

Of the 2,059 arrested, more than 1,000 had multiple criminal convictions, 58 were known gang members and 89 were convicted sex offenders.

Nearly 500 of those arrested had been deported previously but sneaked back into the U.S.

One man arrested in California was deported in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2013, and sneaked back each time. He had recently been sent from federal prison, where he was serving an 18-month sentence for illegal re-entry into the U.S., according to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, where he had an outstanding arrest warrant.

ICE had asked the sheriff’s department to keep him in custody after processing, but the sheriff released him onto the streets.

ICE agents rearrested the man Wednesday at his home, and he is now awaiting deportation to Mexico, the agency said.

The issue of localities not honoring detainers has been touchy. California has enacted a sanctuary law limiting local police from cooperating with federal agents, drawing a retort from federal immigration officials who say it means bad actors are let onto the streets.

Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said that is part of the reason his department has revamped its detainer system as part of the Nov. 20 policy changes.

In the past, ICE would ask state and local authorities to hold an illegal immigrant whom they otherwise would release. Under the new policy, ICE asks to be notified ahead of time, meaning the local agency doesn’t have to hold the immigrant any longer than required under its own rules, and federal agents are ready to pick them up faster.

That system was a concession to immigrant rights advocates who said the old process led to the deportations of too many low-priority illegal immigrants.

Even as he took fire from his political left, Mr. Obama has tried to convince the political right that he is determined to maintain a high level of deportations without having to remove immigrants he believes should be allowed to stay.

That has proved increasingly difficult, as deportations dropped from 409,849 in fiscal year 2012 to 315,943 last year.

On Monday, Mr. Mayorkas said it was too early to tell how deportation numbers are trending in fiscal year 2015, which is 5 months old.

“There are peaks and valleys in the enforcement efforts,” he said. “The focus is on public safety and national security. And that is a qualitative paradigm, not a quantitative paradigm.”

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