EL PASO, Texas - In the last eight months, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) referrals nationwide resulted in the felony prosecution of more than 3,800 criminal aliens for re-entering the country after deportation, more than double the number of re-entry cases the agency recorded in all of last year.
From October 2007 through May 2008, investigations by ICE's Office of Detention and Removal Operations (DRO) led to the prosecution of 3,831 illegal aliens for felony re-entry after deportation, compared to 1,808 such prosecutions in all of fiscal year 2007.
A key reason for that dramatic increase was the launch in February of Operation Repeat Offender, an initiative by ICE DRO targeting criminal aliens and immigration fugitives for further federal prosecution. Initially the program involved five ICE DRO Field Offices - El Paso, Phoenix, Houston, San Antonio and San Diego. This month, the initiative was expanded to all ICE DRO Field Offices nationwide.
Of the ICE re-entry cases accepted for prosecution by the U.S. Attorneys' Offices so far this fiscal year, 670 were referrals from the ICE DRO Field Office in El Paso. Among those charged locally with re-entry after deportation was Enrique Morales-Gonzalez, a Mexican national whose history includes prior deportations and past criminal convictions for family violence, two convictions for cocaine possession, burglary and driving under the influence. He was sentenced to 20 months in federal prison.
The heightened emphasis on felony immigration cases reflects a commitment by ICE and the Department of Justice to send a strong message of deterrence to illegal aliens with lengthy criminal and immigration records. The maximum penalty for re-entry after deportation is 20 years in prison.
"The multi-year sentences we typically get in these cases not only serve as a strong deterrent, but they also take dangerous recidivists or other felony offenders off the street and help to disrupt other types of criminal activity," said Julie L. Myers, Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for ICE. "Federal immigration prosecutions are a vital component of our interior immigration enforcement strategy and ICE will continue to work closely with the Department of Justice to bring these cases forward."
"The immigration violators we're targeting under this program have no respect for our nation's laws or our borders," said Robert Jolicoeur, field office director for ICE DRO in El Paso. "These felony immigration prosecutions are a stern reminder to those who might be considering re-entering the country after a deportation that there will be serious consequences for their actions."
Under Operation Repeat Offender, DRO established special divisions in its field offices, known as Violent Criminal Alien Sections, to review criminal and fugitive alien cases for federal prosecution. ICE has also assigned lawyers to the U.S. Attorney's Office here and elsewhere to aid with the prosecution of these cases. Priority consideration is given to prior deportees who also have past convictions for serious or violent criminal offenses, including suspected gang members and sex offenders.
The heightened focus on re-entry prosecutions is part of the Department of Homeland Security's multi-year plan 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.