FT. MYERS, Fla. - Sixty-two immigration fugitives and immigration violators including six gang members were arrested in Lee County following a five-day law enforcement operation carried out by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Florida Fugitive operations teams, the Lee County Sheriff's Office and the Collier County Sheriff's Office. This enforcement effort focused on fugitives residing in Lee County.
During the five-day operation, which concluded Friday, ICE detention and removal officers and Lee and Collier County Sheriff's officers arrested 55 fugitives and seven immigration violators. Fifteen of those arrested had criminal histories that spanned from aggravated assault, battery, DUI, DUI hit and run, resisting officer without violence, burglary, weapons offenses, cocaine possession and larceny.
"The removal of illegal aliens, especially those with a criminal history, is one of ICE's top priorities," said Michael Rozos, field office director for the ICE Office of Detention and Removal Operations in Florida. "We will continue using all our resources to ensure that removal orders are carried out. I want to thank the Lee and Collier County Sheriff's Office for their assistance in locating and apprehending these immigration violators who potentially pose a threat to public safety."
An immigration fugitive is someone who has ignored a final order of deportation. Those fugitives have already been ordered deported and are subject to immediate removal from the United States. The individuals who have illegally re-entered the U.S. after deportation are also subject to immediate removal from the U.S. The other immigration violators arrested during this operation who have not already been ordered removed, have been charged with immigration violations and placed into removal proceedings. They await hearings before an immigration judge.
"As always and with all crimes, we at the Sheriff's Office stand ready to partner with our law enforcement counterparts in the interest of a safer community," said Sheriff Michael J. Scott of the Lee County Sheriff's Office. "Our community is much better off following this successful operation, and we pledge our continued support for the eviction of criminal aliens and secured, Federal borders."
"This operation was a successful collaboration that benefited all of Southwest Florida," said Sheriff Don Hunter of the Collier County Sheriff's Office. "The Collier County Sheriff's Office, the Lee County Sheriff's Office and ICE worked together to bring about the expeditious removal of foreign nationals who are here illegally and are committing crimes. It has already proven to have a positive impact on crime in Collier County."
Among those arrested in the Collier and Lee County area included:
- Luis Antonio Zaragoza-Alcocer, 20, a Mexican national, who entered the United States at an unknown location and unknown date without inspection. He admitted to being illegally in the United States and was processed and served a Notice to Appear on July 30, 2008. Zaragoza-Alcocer admitted to being an active member of the SUR 13 gang in Fort Myers, Florida. He will remain in ICE custody pending removal proceedings.
- Pedro Martinez, 21, a Mexican national, who entered the United States at an unknown location and unknown date without inspection. Martinez admitted to being illegally in the United States and was processed and served a notice to appear on July 30, 2008. He has criminal convictions for two counts of resisting officer without violence and trespassing. He admitted to being an active member of the SUR 13 gang in Fort Myers, Florida. He will remain in ICE custody pending removal proceedings.
- Diego Leon Preciado-Cifuentes, 43, a Colombian national, who entered the United States in New York City on March 30, 1969 as an immigrant. Due to his criminal convictions, he was placed in immigration proceedings and ordered removed by an immigration judge on May 7, 1997. Preciado-Cifuentes filed and appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals which was dismissed on May 21, 1998. He has convictions for two counts of driving under the influence, burglary, resisting an officer and carrying a concealed weapon. Preciado-Cifuentes will remain in ICE custody pending his removal from the U.S.
The Fugitive Operations Program was established in 2003 to eliminate the nation's backlog of immigration fugitives and ensure that deportation orders handed down by immigration judges are enforced. Last year, the nation's fugitive alien population showed its first-ever decline. Estimates now place the number of immigration fugitives in the United States at 572,000, a decrease of more than 60,000 since October 2006.
Much of the credit for those results can be attributed to the rapid expansion of the program. Today, ICE has 90 Fugitive Operations Teams deployed across the country. Due to the success of the fugitive operations effort, Congress authorized ICE to add 29 more Fugitive Operation Teams in fiscal year 2008. Locally, the ICE Florida field office has seven operational teams and two additional teams will be deployed within the next month.
Those arrested represent countries around the globe including Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador, Peru, Mexico, Jamaica, Argentina, Bahamas and Russia.
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. The plan also involves strong interior enforcement efforts, including enhanced worksite enforcement and intensified efforts to track down and remove illegal aliens inside the United States.