Saturday, May 24, 2008

REGION: ICE operation nets 137 in San Diego County (North County Times)

REGION: ICE operation nets 137 in San Diego County
Crackdown targets criminal records, deportation orders

By SARAH GORDON - Staff Writer Friday, May 23, 2008 5:11 PM PDT

SAN DIEGO COUNTY ---- Federal agents arrested 137 people in San Diego County, including 32 in North County, during a three-week, statewide immigration crackdown that ended late Thursday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said Friday.

The sweep, conducted by the agency's Fugitive Operations Teams, started May 5 in San Diego and netted more than 900 people in California by the time it wrapped up in the San Francisco Bay area Thursday, said the agency's spokeswoman Lauren Mack.

The Fugitive Operations Teams, formed in 2003, are charged primarily with arresting and deporting illegal immigrants with criminal records and fugitives who have ignored a judge's deportation orders, said Robin Baker, San Diego field office director for the agency's detention and removal operations.

"These are people, they've had their day in court, and the judge has determined they're here in violation of the law," Baker said.

Of the 137 people arrested in San Diego County, 73 were targeted because they had ignored deportation orders or returned to the U.S. illegally after being removed, Baker said. The remaining 64 were undocumented immigrants whom agents encountered along the way, generally at a target's home, Baker said.

An immigrant rights activist decried the raids, saying they break up families and create fear in immigrant communities because they involve so many "collateral" arrests.

"We have received a number of calls of complaints over the past few weeks," said Pedro Rios, director of the San Diego American Friends Service Committee. "The more people experience these raids, the more they realize how nefarious they are and how they disintegrate communities."

Baker said the Fugitive Operations Teams pick their targets based on the threat they pose to the community. More than 40 percent of the people arrested in San Diego County had criminal histories in addition to being in the U.S illegally, Baker said. Their crimes included assault with a deadly weapon, carjacking, domestic violence and sexual assault.

About half the people arrested in the statewide operation were removed from the country immediately, Baker said. The remaining people are in ICE custody and waiting for a hearing before an immigration judge.

Rios, of the American Friends Service Committee, said that the so-called "targeted" operations in fact cast a wide net that can catch any illegal immigrant an agent meets.

But Baker said that is not agents' goal.

"The priority is the fugitives," he said. "We are using discretion, normally detaining others in the house in egregious cases where they can't even identify themselves to us. Here's a person who can't tell us who they are, and we're charged with protecting America. If we walked away it would be like a dereliction of duty."

Since 2003, the Fugitive Operations Teams have added to their ranks each year and arrested over 72,000 illegal immigrants nationwide, statistics show.

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