WASHINGTON - More than 1,800 criminal aliens, immigration fugitives, and immigration violators have been removed from the United States or are facing deportation today following a month-long enforcement effort which partnered neighboring U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Fugitive Operations Teams to make arrests in six states.
Of the 1,808 individuals 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 are immigration fugitives or have criminal histories.
"ICE is committed to protecting the integrity of our immigration system. These enforcement operations ensure that the removal orders handed down by the nation's immigration courts are carried out," said Julie L. Myers, Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security for ICE. "Because of similar successful operations, we are seeing for the first time, a marked decrease in the fugitive alien population. 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."
These operations are carefully planned and professionally implemented. ICE's fugitive operations teams prioritize cases involving immigration violators who pose a threat to national security and community safety. These include sex offenders, suspected gang members, and those who have convictions for violent crimes. For instance, among those arrested by the fugitive operations teams was a previously deported Mexican national who was 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. Ceja is being prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office for felony re-entry after deportation, a violation that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Since many of these individuals have already been ordered deported, they are subject to immediate removal from the United States. Those arrested during this coordinated operation who have not already been ordered returned to their home countries have been placed in removal proceedings and are awaiting a hearing before an immigration judge.
The Fugitive Operations Program was established in 2003 to eliminate the nation's backlog of immigration fugitives. Today, ICE has 75 teams deployed across the country and an additional 29 teams will be added by the end of September. Last year, the fugitive operations teams nearly doubled the number of arrests from 2006 - from 15,000 to more than 30,000. Additionally, in 2007, the nation's fugitive alien population declined for the first time in history and continues to do so - in large part due to the work of the fugitive operations teams and our Fugitive Operations Support Center, which helps to clear outstanding cases. Estimates now place the number of immigration fugitives in the United States at approximately 573,000, a decrease of nearly 60,000 since October 2006.
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 immigration. 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.