WASHINGTON, DC - Reflecting the impact of heightened, strategic enforcement efforts, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) efforts reached record levels in virtually every enforcement category in fiscal year 2008, from criminal, gang and fugitive alien arrests to federal prosecutions and formal deportations. The significant increase is a direct result of ICE's expanded interior immigration enforcement strategy, focusing on three priorities - targeting criminal and fugitive aliens; eliminating the magnet of illegal employment; and dismantling the infrastructure that supports illegal immigration including the criminal organizations engaged in wide-spread identity theft and document fraud.
"We made a commitment to the American people to embark on an ambitious enforcement strategy aimed at securing our borders and strengthening our nation's immigration system," said Julie L. Myers, Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for ICE. "The record results announced today reflect significant, steady progress toward this goal. The men and women at ICE, along with our law enforcement partners, deserve our thanks for their hard-work and dedication."
Comprehensive strategy results in record removals
Overall, the number of illegal aliens repatriated by ICE jumped 20 percent in the latest fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. In the past 12 months, ICE removed or returned a total of 349,041 illegal aliens to their native countries, compared to 288,663 aliens in fiscal year 2007. Notably, one third of the illegal aliens removed from the United States last year were foreign nationals who had prior criminal convictions in addition to being in the country illegally.
Targeting criminal and fugitive aliens
In fiscal year 2008, the number of criminal aliens charged by ICE while incarcerated soared to more than 221,000, more than three times the total from just two years before. Ensuring criminal aliens incarcerated in the nation's jails and prisons are targeted for removal rather than being released onto the streets is one of ICE's top priorities through its Secure Communities program.
The cornerstone of Secure Communities is the implementation of interoperable technology that will provide local law enforcement agencies immigration history information contained in DHS databases. By spring 2009, it is estimated that approximately 50 law enforcement agencies will be utilizing this new process with a target of 100% participation by 2011. Already, 100% of inmates at federal and state facilities are screening through our Criminal Alien Program. This new link to immigration databases ensures a virtual ICE presence at local jails.
Another ICE enforcement priority is reducing the number of immigration fugitive cases, which are primarily aliens who have defied court-issued deportation orders to leave the country. Today ICE has more than 100 Fugitive Operations Teams deployed nationwide to pursue these types of cases. In fiscal year 2008, those teams accounted for approximately 34,000 arrests, more than double the total just two years ago. As a result of these efforts, the nation's fugitive alien population continues to decline. Estimates now place the number of fugitive alien cases at slightly under 560,000, a decrease of nearly 37,000 in the fiscal year. This is a historic reversal of the previous growth trend in fugitive cases.
ICE also achieved remarkable enforcement results through Operation Community Shield, a program aimed at disrupting and dismantling violent transnational street gangs. ICE partnered with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies nationwide over the summer to arrest more than 1,700 gang members and associates, criminals and immigration violators. Since 2005, ICE has arrested more than 11,200 members and associates from 890 different gangs.
Eliminating the magnet of illegal employment
While identifying and removing criminal aliens from the United States is a key component of ICE's immigration enforcement strategy, another crucial facet of that effort is targeting unscrupulous employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens. The lure of jobs continues to be one of the primary forces fueling illegal immigration and employers who exploit illegal alien labor gain an unfair economic advantage over their competition.
ICE continues to sharply increase the number of individuals criminally and administratively arrested in worksite enforcement investigations with a particular priority placed on egregious business owners and managers. In 2008, ICE made 1,100 criminal arrests tied to worksite investigations - up from 863 in FY 2007. Of those charged criminally in these types of cases, 135 were business owners, managers, supervisors or human resource employees; in FY 2007, 92 were charged. In addition to the criminal arrests, ICE also took more than 5,100 illegal aliens into custody on administrative immigration violations during worksite investigations - more than one thousand more violators than in FY 2007. In FY 2008, for the first time, ICE also debarred seven companies from federal contracting because each had been found to be unlawfully employing persons without employment authorization.
Dismantling the infrastructure that supports illegal immigration
Identity theft is a growing trend where illegal aliens are assuming the identities of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents and improperly using their Social Security numbers to gain unauthorized employment. To combat this problem, ICE's 17 Document and Benefit Fraud Task Forces increased the number of criminal and administrative arrests this year. The Task Forces target fraudulent document vendors and criminal enterprises engaged in immigration benefit fraud. This year ICE agents arrested 1,625 individuals on criminal charges and another 1,749 subjects on administrative immigration violations. In FY 2007, those arrest totals stood at 1,531 and 1,464 respectively.