SAN FRANCISCO - More than 900 criminal aliens, immigration fugitives, and immigration violators have been removed from the United States or are facing deportation today following a three-week enforcement surge by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Fugitive Operations Teams in California.
During the special operation, which concluded late yesterday, ICE officers located and arrested a total of 905 immigration violators throughout the state, including 441 throughout northern California. Of those arrested in northern California, 178 were immigration fugitives, aliens who have ignored final orders of deportation or who returned to the United States illegally after being removed. Approximately one-fifth of the aliens taken into custody in the northern part of the state had criminal histories in addition to being in the country illegally.
Among those arrested by the Fugitive Operations Teams in northern California was a previously deported Mexican national whose criminal history includes prior convictions for transportation and sale of heroin. Mauro Preciado-Preciado, 31, was arrested by ICE Fugitive Operations officers at his Sacramento residence Tuesday. Preciado was deported five years ago after serving time for the drug conviction, but subsequently re-entered the country illegally. Preciado is being prosecuted by the United States Attorney's Office in Sacramento for felony re-entry after deportation, a violation that carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. ICE officers also arrested a foreign national sex offender in Watsonville who has prior convictions for spousal rape and burglary. The 41-year-old Mexican citizen, who was taken into custody earlier this week at a restaurant where he worked, was deported last year and re-entered the country illegally.
In addition to the five Fugitive Operations Teams based in northern California, ICE officers from the agency's teams in Los Angeles and San Diego 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 sex offenders, suspected gang members, and those who have convictions for violent crimes.
Since many of these individuals have already been ordered deported, they are subject to immediate removal from the United States. More than half of those arrested during the statewide operation have already been returned to their home countries. 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 75 teams deployed across the country, including 13 here in California.
Last year, 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. Estimates now place the number of immigration fugitives in the United States at slightly under 573,000, a decrease of more than 59,000 since October 2006. Given the success of the fugitive operations effort, Congress has authorized ICE to add 29 more Fugitive Operations Teams in fiscal year 2008.
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.