SAN DIEGO - More than 1,000 criminal aliens, immigration fugitives, and immigration violators have been removed from the United States or are facing deportation today following the largest special enforcement operation ever carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Fugitive Operations Teams in California.
During the three-week enforcement surge, which concluded Saturday, ICE officers located and arrested a total of 1,157 immigration violators throughout the state, including 301 here in San Diego and Imperial counties. Of those arrested locally, a total of 102 were immigration fugitives, aliens who have ignored final orders of deportation or who returned to the United States illegally after being removed. More than 40 percent of the aliens taken into custody in this area had criminal histories in addition to being in the country illegally.
"The deployment of more Fugitive Operations Teams, together with enhancements in our ability to track leads in these cases, have resulted in the arrest of record numbers of immigration fugitives this year and we expect that trend to continue," said Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers, who oversees ICE. "Individuals who defy immigration court orders to leave the country need to understand there are consequences for willfully disregarding the law. ICE is committed to enforcing these outstanding deportation orders and strengthening the integrity of our nation's immigration system."
Among those arrested by the Fugitive Operations Teams locally was Francisco Javier Esquivel-Tristan, a 72-year-old legal resident who was taken into ICE custody outside his residence last week. As part of a coordinated effort with local police, Esquivel-Tristan was turned over to officers with the San Diego Police Department's sex crimes and child abuse unit. Esquivel-Tristan has been charged by the San Diego Police Department with 52 counts of lewd acts involving a child under 14. He was booked into the San Diego County Central jail where he is being held on $2.7 million bond.
Following his release by local authorities, Esquivel will be returned to ICE custody and placed in removal proceedings based upon his criminal record.
In addition to the local Fugitive Operations Teams, ICE officers from the agency's teams in San Francisco and Los Angeles were temporarily deployed to the area to assist with this enforcement action.
ICE's Fugitive Operations Teams are tasked with identifying and arresting foreign nationals who have ignored final orders of deportation or have returned to the United States illegally after being removed. The teams prioritize cases involving immigration violators who pose a threat to national security and community safety. These include child sexual exploiters, suspected gang members, and those who have convictions for any violent crimes.
Since many of these individuals have already been ordered deported, they are subject to immediate removal from the country. The remaining aliens are in ICE custody and are awaiting a hearing before an immigration judge, or pending travel arrangements for removal in the near future.
The Fugitive Operations Program was established in 2003 to eliminate the nation's backlog of immigration fugitives. Today, ICE has 95 teams in place across the country, including 17 here in California.
As a result of the efforts of the Fugitive Operations Teams, the nation's fugitive alien population continues to decline. Estimates now place the number of immigration fugitives in the United States at slightly under 560,000, a decrease of more than 34,000 since October 2007.
ICE's Fugitive Operations Program is an integral part of the comprehensive multi-year plan launched by the Department of Homeland Security to secure America's borders and reduce illegal migration. That strategy seeks to gain operational control of both the northern and southern borders, while re-engineering the detention and removal system to ensure that illegal aliens are removed from the country quickly and efficiently.
EDITOR'S NOTE: DVDs featuring ICE b-roll of this latest operation are available. The footage was shot in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. In addition, Robin Baker, the field office director for ICE Detention and Removal Operations in San Diego, will be available for follow-up interviews today from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. To schedule an interview or obtain a copy of the b-roll DVD, call ICE public affairs at (619) 557-6485.