LOS ANGELES - Nearly 300 foreign nationals with criminal records have been removed from the United States or are facing deportation following a three-day enforcement surge in California, making it the biggest operation targeting at large criminal aliens ever carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
During the operation, which concluded late Thursday, ICE officers located and arrested a total of 280 criminal aliens statewide, along with six non-criminal aliens who had final orders of deportation. More than 80 percent of the criminal aliens taken into custody had prior convictions for serious or violent crimes, such as rape by force, armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. Also included in the group are 30 convicted sex offenders, many whose crimes involved sexual assaults on children. Of those arrested, at least 100 have already been removed from the country.
At a news conference here Friday morning, Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for ICE John Morton announced the results of the special operation, which involved more than 400 agents and officers from ICE, the U.S. Marshals Service, as well as several other state and local agencies. Assistant Secretary Morton cited the operation as another example of the vital role multi-agency cooperation and targeted immigration enforcement play in protecting our communities.
"Enhancing public safety is at the core of ICE's mission," said Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary John Morton, who oversees ICE. "Legal immigration is an important part of our country's history and the American dream exists for many immigrants. However, that dream involves playing by the rules and those who break our criminal laws will be removed from the country. Sadly, many of the people victimized by aliens who commit crimes are other members of the immigrant community, who are following the rules."
Northern California accounted for the largest number of arrests during the operation where a total of 119 criminal aliens were taken into custody. The Los Angeles-area recorded the next highest number of arrests with 96, followed by San Diego and Imperial counties collectively with 71. The arrestees, 257 men and 29 women, represent more than 30 different nations, including countries in Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Because of their serious criminal histories and prior immigration arrest records, at least 17 of those arrested during the enforcement surge will face further federal prosecution for reentering the country illegally after a formal deportation. A conviction for felony re-entry carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
Among the arrestees being federally prosecuted is a previously deported Salvadoran national with ties to the Mid-city street gang whose criminal history includes a prior conviction for first degree robbery. Ulises Vazuiz Arucha, 37, was taken into custody by ICE officers Dec. 8 in Reseda, Calif. Also facing felony re-entry charges is Ignacio Camacho-Madrigal, 43, a Mexican national formerly convicted of committing a lewd act on a child under 14. Camacho-Madrigal was arrested by ICE Dec. 8 in Rialto, Calif.
The foreign nationals detained during the operation who are not being criminally prosecuted will be processed administratively for removal from the United States. Those who have outstanding orders of deportation, or who returned to the United States illegally after being deported, are subject to immediate removal from the country. The remaining aliens are in ICE custody awaiting a hearing before an immigration judge, or pending travel arrangements for removal in the near future.
This week's special enforcement action was spearheaded by ICE's Fugitive Operations Program, which is responsible for locating, arresting, and removing at large criminal aliens and immigration fugitives - aliens who have ignored final orders of deportation handed down by the nation's immigration courts. ICE's Fugitive Operations Teams (FOTs) give top priority to cases involving aliens who pose a threat to national security and public safety, including members of transnational street gangs and child sex offenders.
Last year, ICE's 104 FOTs nationwide made 35,094 arrests. More than 31,000 of those arrests, or nearly 89 percent, involved immigration fugitives and aliens with prior criminal convictions. Criminal aliens specifically accounted for approximately 45 percent of the overall total, including more than 3,600 individuals with prior convictions for violent crimes, such as murder and assault.
The officers who conducted this week's special operation received substantial assistance from ICE's Fugitive Operations Support Center (FOSC) located in South Burlington, Vermont. The FOSC conducted exhaustive database checks on the targeted cases to help ensure the viability of the leads and accuracy of the criminal histories. The FOSC was established in 2006 to improve the integrity of the data available on at large criminal aliens and immigration fugitives nationwide. Since its inception, the FOSC has forwarded more than 150,000 case leads to ICE enforcement personnel in the field.
ICE's Fugitive Operations Program is just one facet of the Department of Homeland Security's broader strategy to heighten the federal government's effectiveness at identifying and removing dangerous criminal aliens from the United States. Other initiatives that figure prominently in this effort are the Criminal Alien Program, Secure Communities and the agency's partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies under 287(g).
Largely as a result of these initiatives, ICE removed a total of 136,126 criminal aliens from the United States last year, a record number.