OMAHA, Neb. - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Fugitive Operations Team arrested 44 fugitive aliens and immigration violators in central Nebraska during a five-day initiative that ended Tuesday night.
"Fugitive aliens" are illegal aliens who fail to appear for their immigration hearings, or they abscond after having been ordered to leave the country by a federal immigration judge.
During the five-day operation, which ended June 24, ICE Fugitive Operations Team members arrested illegal aliens in Lexington (25 arrests), Grand Island (12 arrests) Broken Bow (2 arrests), and one arrest in each of the following cities: Cozad, Gibbon, Hastings, Kearney and North Platte. Twenty-eight of those arrested were fugitives; 16 were immigration violators encountered by ICE officers during their targeted arrests. Of the 44 apprehended, 10 have previous criminal convictions in addition to their administrative immigration violations.
"It's important for us to send a strong message to anyone who ignores deportation orders handed down by federal immigration judges," said Scott Baniecke, field office director of the ICE Office of Detention and Removal Operations in Bloomington, Minn. "ICE uses all the tools and resources at our disposal to locate criminal and illegal aliens and send them home." Baniecke oversees a five-state area that includes: Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota.
Those arrested are from the following countries: Nicaragua, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador.
Following are some of the criminal aliens arrested by ICE's Chicago Fugitive Operations Teams during this latest operation:
- Alberto De Jesus Arias-Lopez, 28, a citizen ofÂ Guatemala, was arrested June 20 in Cozad. He was ordered deported by a federal immigration judge July 26, 2007, but failed to surrender. Arias-Lopez has convictions in Dawson County for assault and carrying a concealed weapon.
- Juan Mejia-Perez, 33, a citizen of Guatemala, was arrested June 21 in Lexington. He was ordered deported by a federal immigration judge Jan. 10, 2006, but failed to surrender. Mejia-Perez has a prior conviction in Dawson County for assault.
- Diego Avellan-Castro, 50, a citizen of Nicaragua, was arrested June 22 in Lexington. He was ordered deported by a federal immigration judge August 8, 1990, but failed to surrender. Avellan-Castro has a felony conviction in Dawson County for cruelty toward a child.
Through May 31 of fiscal year 2008, which began Oct. 1, 2007, 542 illegal aliens were arrested by Fugitive Teams in the five-state area covered by the Bloomington ICE office. Of the total, 452 were fugitive aliens; 90 were immigration violators encountered by the ICE Fugitive Operations Teams during their targeted arrests. Of the 542 apprehended, 103 had criminal convictions in addition to their administrative immigration violations. In all of fiscal year 2007, Fugitive Operations Teams in the six-state area arrested 914 aliens.
ICE established its Fugitive Operations Program in 2003 to eliminate the nation's backlog of immigration fugitives and ensure that deportation orders handed down by immigration judges are enforced. Today, ICE has 84 Fugitive Operations Teams deployed across the country, and an additional 20 teams will be added by the end of September.
Last year, the fugitive operations teams nearly doubled the number of 2006 arrests, increasing 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 because of 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 572,000, a decrease of nearly 23,000 since October 2007.
The Fugitive Operations Teams successes are attributed, in part, to ICE's expanded partnerships with local law enforcement agencies nationwide, and the newly created Fugitive Operations Support Center (FOSC) in Vermont, which aids in gathering and analyzing information on fugitive cases across the country. This center was opened last year and has since disseminated more than 150,000 case leads to ICE agents.
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.