Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced Monday that a five-day, nationwide operation targeting convicted criminal aliens subject to removal “yielded the arrest of 2,059 convicted criminals" and two individuals added to ICE’s most wanted fugitives list.
Led by ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), ICE said the 2,059 individuals with prior criminal convictions who were arrested included more than 1,000 individuals who have multiple criminal convictions. More than 1,000 of those arrested have felony convictions, including voluntary manslaughter, child pornography, robbery, kidnapping and rape.
Of the total 2,059 criminals arrested, 58 are known gang members or affiliates, and 89 are convicted sex offenders.
The vast majority of misdemeanor convictions were for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI). ICE considers DUI offenders, particularly repeat offenders, to be a significant public safety threat.
Of those arrested during this operation, 476 were illegal re-entrants who had been previously removed from the country. Because of their serious criminal histories and prior immigration arrest records, 163 of those arrested during the enforcement action were presented to US Attorneys for prosecution on a variety of charges, including illegal re-entry after deportation, a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
The current illegal alien round-up, dubbed “Cross Check,” began Sunday, March 1, and ended Thursday, March 5. Hundreds of ERO officers participated in the operation that focused on the arrests of public safety threats. Those arrested are from 94 countries and have a wide array of criminal convictions, DHS stated.
All targets of this operation fell within the top two priorities established by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson’s under the department’s new Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), which was spelled out in his November 20 memorandum, “Policies for the Apprehension, Detention and Removal of Undocumented Immigrants.”
Johnson said “our enforcement and removal policies should continue to prioritize threats to national security, public safety and border security … To promote public confidence in our enforcement activities.”
However, the “the second-highest priority for apprehension and removal” of illegal aliens where “Resources should be dedicated accordingly” includes illegal “aliens convicted of threeor more misdemeanor offenses, other than minor traffic offenses or state or local offenses for which an essential element was the alien’s immigration status, provided the offenses arise out of
three separate incidents; aliens convicted of a ‘significant misdemeanor,’ which for these purposes is an offense of domestic violence; sexual abuse or exploitation; burglary; unlawful possession or use of a firearm; drug distribution or trafficking; or driving under the influence; or if not an offense listed above, one for which the individual was sentenced to time in custody of 90 days or more (the sentence must involve time to be served in custody, and does not include a suspended sentence).”
According to Johnson’s decree, “the highest priority to which enforcement resources should be directed [are] aliens engaged in or suspected of terrorism or espionage, or who otherwise pose a danger to national security; aliens apprehended at the border or ports of entry while attempting to
unlawfully enter the United States; aliens convicted of an offense for which an element was active participation in a criminal street gang, as defined in 18 U.S.C.§ 52 l(a), or aliens not younger than 16 years of age who intentionally participated in an organized criminal gang to further the illegal activity of the gang; aliens convicted of an offense classified as a felony in the convicting jurisdiction, other than a state or local offense for which an essential element was the alien’s immigration status; and aliens convicted of an ‘aggravated felony,’ as that term is defined in section 101(a)(43) of the Immigration and Nationality Act at the time of the conviction.”
Critics on Capitol Hill had been complaining ICE was not doing enough to get these sorts of illegal immigrant criminals off the streets, adding that by not prioritizing deportation of the second tier class of alien criminals didn’t comport with Johnson’s assertion in his memorandum that, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) “enforcement priorities are, have been, and will continue to be … public safety.”
Johnson clashed with lawmakers on the House Committee on Homeland Security in December during a hearing on President Obama’s sweeping executive actions on immigration, which offered millions of illegals temporary relief from deportation but which recently was stayed by a US federal judge in Texas pursuant to a constitutional challenge to the executive orders.
In its latest dragnet, ICE went after these so-called “second tier” illegal alien offenders.
“Just how in the hell does” not prioritizing “going after illegals” who’ve been involved in domestic violence; sexual abuse or exploitation; burglary; unlawful possession or use of a firearm; drug distribution or trafficking; or driving under the influence “constitute DHS’s priority of protecting public safety,” a senior DHS official disgruntled with the administration’s new policy for dealing with illegals earlier told Homeland Security Today on background. “Just tell me … how does it?”
Aliens convicted of sexual abuse or exploitation; burglary; unlawful possession or use of a firearm; drug distribution or trafficking” are likely involved in or have important ties to “a criminal street gang” or “an organized criminal gang” (the aliens DHS has prioritized as their top concerns), but who very likely have some sort of direct ties to Mexican transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) or gangs working for them in the US which are involved in priority one offenses like human trafficking – including the female sex trade – narco-trafficking and other TCO-gang operations, ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents told Homeland Security Today during background interviews.
Others agreed, including members of the Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, southwest border state and regional fusion centers and departments of public safety intelligence units who also spoke to Homeland Security Today on condition of anonymity or on background.
“These second priority criminal aliens are just as much of a threat – if not more so – to public safety as those who’ve been given top priority,” one of the HSI agents stressed, “adding, “The whole thing makes no damned sense whatsoever to me! And ‘aliens apprehended at the border or ports of entry while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States,’ well, hell, how do you think the second priority criminal aliens got here in the first place?”
“Sure,” aliens engaged in or suspected of terrorism or espionage, or who otherwise pose a danger to national security, “should be a top priority, the HSI agent continued, “but just how many of these aliens are running around the streets? A lot less, I suspect, than the second priority [aliens] who pose what I consider to be a greater immediate threat to public safety in general.”
Disconcertingly, the agent said he’s hardly alone. Among the (HSI) special agents “I work with, we’re all of the same sentiment.” He said he suspects this new policy is going to result in a quickly “creeping” morale problem for DHS, especially if second priority aliens continue to commit violent crimes “and end up killing people and are found trafficking drugs for the cartels. This will become a huge problem for the department and administration if that happens.”
Last May, a Center for Immigration Studies report disclosed ICE released more than 36,000 convicted criminal aliens in deportation proceedings in Fiscal Year 2013. The released aliens had 88,000 convictions among them, including 16,070 drunk or drugged driving convictions, 9,187 dangerous drug convictions, 426 sexual assault convictions, 303 kidnapping convictions and 193 homicide convictions (including one willful killing of a public official with gun).
“This enumeration of FY 2013 criminal aliens freed and the criminal convictions tied to these individuals was prepared by ICE in response to congressional inquiries following a report published by the Center for Immigration Studies” that showed ICE officers declined to bring immigration charges in 68,000 cases of criminal aliens they encountered in 2013, said Jessica M. Vaughan, the author of the report and Director of Policy Studies at the Center for Immigration Studies.
“It is important to recognize,” she said, “that the 36,007 criminal aliens counted in this document are a different set of cases from the 68,000 releases reported earlier. The 36,007 criminal aliens counted here are aliens who were being processed for deportation and were freed while awaiting the final disposition of their cases, or afterwards. The 68,000 releases were cases of alien criminals encountered by ICE officers, usually in jails, but who were let go in lieu of processing them for immigration removal charges in that year.”
For its part, ICE responded at the time saying many of the individuals released were done so under orders from US courts. ICE said 75 percent of the people released who had murder convictions were “mandatory releases.” Others released could not be returned to their home country and could not be detained indefinitely in ICE’s custody, the agency said. ICE further said the released undocumented aliens were monitored via GPS, telephone and in-person visits.”
“Others, typically those with less serious offenses,” ICE said, “were released as a discretionary matter after career law enforcement officers made a judgment regarding the priority of holding the individual, given ICE’s resources, and prioritizing the detention and removal of individuals who pose a risk to public safety or national security.”
Vaughan countered, saying, “The 36,007 criminal aliens … were released by means of bond; order of recognizance (unsupervised); order of supervision (which can consist of nothing more than a periodic telephone call to a designated ICE telephone number); an alternative to detention (such as an electronic ankle bracelet, or other form of tracking device); or parole (a form of legal status). The ICE document does not specify the number or type of criminal aliens released according to the form of release.”
Separate information obtained by the Center for Immigration Studies revealed the “vast majority of these releases were discretionary, or even contrary to the requirements of various provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act,” Vaughan continued, noting that, “Only a small share of these criminal aliens (fewer than 3,000) were released in accordance with a 2001 Supreme Court decision, Zadvydas v. Davis, which prevents ICE from indefinitely detaining certain aliens whose countries will not accept them back. Another small number may have been offered parole or legal status, either in exchange for their cooperation with ICE or another law enforcement agency in connection with a criminal prosecution, or because of another compelling public interest.”
Foreign nationals arrested during ICE’s latest roundup who are not being criminally prosecuted will be processed administratively for removal from the United States, DHS said. Those who have outstanding orders of deportation, or who returned to the United States illegally after being deported, are subject to immediate removal from the country. The remaining individuals are in ICE custody awaiting a hearing before an immigration judge, or pending travel arrangements for removal in the near future.
DHS said “Johnson has directed ICE to prioritize the use of enforcement personnel, detention space and removal assets to support the department’s civil immigration enforcement priorities. By taking criminals who pose public safety threats off community streets and removing them from the country, ICE addresses a significant security and public safety vulnerability.”
ICE began conducting large-scale national operations targeting convicted and other ERO priority aliens in May 2011. Since then, five national Cross Check operations resulted in the arrest of more than 12,440 convicted criminals as well as 774 other priority individuals for a total of 13,214 arrests.
The latest operation is the sixth nationwide Cross Check operation in the agency’s history. The first nationwide Cross Check operation occurred at the end of May 2011 and resulted in the arrest of 2,442 convicted criminals. The last Cross Check operation in August 2013 resulted in the arrest of 1,517 convicted criminals, as well as 143 other priority individuals for a total of 1,660 arrests.
This week’s enforcement action was spearheaded by ICE’s National Fugitive Operations Program, which locates, arrests and removes at-large criminals. The officers who conducted this operation received substantial assistance from ICE’s Fugitive Operations Support Center and ICE’s Law Enforcement Support Center, both located in Williston, Vermont.
“This national operation exemplifies ICE’s ongoing commitment to prioritizing convicted criminals and public safety threats for apprehension and removal,” said ICE Director Sarah R. Saldaña. “By taking these individuals off our streets and removing them from the country, we are making our communities safer for everyone.”
In fiscal year 2014, ERO removed 315,943 individuals from the United States. ICE enforcement priorities include removable aliens considered threats to national security, those attempting to unlawfully enter the United States, gang members, felons, and individuals convicted of crimes including domestic violence, sexual abuse, and drug distribution or driving under the influence.
Among those arrested are:
- A Jamaican citizen arrested in Atlanta, Georgia convicted in 2014 of breaking and entering, larceny, speeding to elude arrest and assault with a deadly weapon on a law enforcement officer;
- A Polish citizen arrested in East Hartford, Connecticut convicted twice for possession of cocaine and other drugs, twice for probation violation and resisting arrest and once for reckless driving;
- A Finnish citizen arrested in Naperville, Illinois convicted in 2014 of child pornography involving a victim under 13 years old; and
- A Mexican citizen arrested in Arvada, Colorado, who is a documented member of the Sureños criminal street gang and was convicted in 2014 of possession of a weapon.
The roundup came on the heels of ICE earlier having claimed few illegal immigrants commit crimes or flee who participate in their alternative to detention program, the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP).
Homeland Security Today recently reported that an audit by DHS’s Inspector General (IG) found ICE lacks the performance metrics to determine whether the program has actually been effective, resulting in the IG finding that 2,010 program participants were arrested for committing crimes between 2010 and 2012, and that during the same period 2,760 aliens absconded while enrolled in the program — 2010 (927), 2011 (982), and 2012 (851).
ISAP offers an alternative to detention. ICE is responsible for tracking the more than 1.8 million aliens in immigration removal proceedings. However, because ICE’s budget only funds 34,000 detention beds, ICE cannot detain all aliens who are waiting to appear in immigration courts or waiting for removal.
ISAP was created in 2003 to solve this problem. Under the program, ICE supervises aliens it has released from detention, and monitors them electronically. As a condition of release, ICE requires aliens to appear in immigration court for removal proceedings and comply with removal orders from the United States.
The IG determined ICE cannot definitively determine whether “ISAP has reduced the rate at which aliens, who were once in the program but who are no longer participating, have absconded or been arrested for criminal acts.”
ICE said the program is effective, reporting that the rates at which ISAP participants absconded and were arrested for criminal acts declined each year between 2010 and 2012. However, after changing the program to no longer supervise some participants through their immigration proceedings, ICE never updated its performance metrics.
As a result, ICE did not account for former ISAP program participants who had absconded or were arrested for criminal acts after their participation in the program ended.
According to the IG’s audit report, failure to update the performance metrics has made it impossible to determine “whether transitory participation in ISAP contributes over time to reducing the rate at which aliens abscond or are arrested for criminal acts.”
Future statistics should reveal significantly more about the issues raised in this report.