Immigration agents arresting more criminals
By Cindy Carcamo
The Orange County Register (Santa Ana), November 5, 2009
Immigration agents in charge of chasing down illegal immigrants who are avoiding deportation orders are increasingly focusing their efforts on arresting those with criminal records.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement statistics reflect a shift in the new administration's focus compared to the last three years.
For instance, three years ago only 22 percent of those arrested by fugitive operations agents in the Southern California area had criminal records.
During this fiscal year, more than 50 percent of the 3,039 arrests in the same area had a criminal history.
Beefed-up manpower, stronger partnerships with local law enforcement and a stronger directive from the top to focus on those with criminal backgrounds who are in the country illegally have led to the change, said Robert Naranjo, assistant field office director. He helps lead the agency's Los Angeles Office of Detention and Removal Operations.
Naranjo, whose teams focus on finding those who are in the country illegally with standing deportation orders, said stronger ties with local law enforcement have led to good leads and arrests.
'Criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety are a public priority,' he said. 'We are prioritizing the criminals but we are continuing to pursue cases involving non-criminal immigration fugitives who have ignored court orders to leave the country.'
While agents will continue to arrest those in the country illegally when they run across them during operations, Naranjo emphasized the agency's priority.
'Like any law enforcement agency we have a finite number of resources, so we have to prioritize,' he said.
The ramped up manpower is especially evident in Orange County, where there are now two teams — one in Santa Ana and another in Laguna Niguel — dedicated to tracking down people who have ignored orders by an immigration judge to be deported. That's a departure from 2003 when there were no teams in the county. Instead, local operations were run out of Los Angeles.
The two teams were deployed in 2007 to Orange County. In addition, Los Angeles now has eight teams, compared to only two six years ago.
Agency officials have long said they have focused on arresting and deporting people with criminal convictions who ignored deportations orders.
However, immigrant rights activists had accused the agency of not doing what they claimed. The issue came to a head after the Migration Policy Institute highlighted the agency's data, which showed that most of those arrested had no criminal records.
While heartened by the recent numbers, some immigrant rights activists, say theyre waiting to see what the next fiscal years numbers will reveal.
'There is clearly a change in the numbers and we welcome that but we want it to be even more focused so they can have lower number of arrests and a much higher percentage of criminals swept up in fugitive operations,' said Carl Bergquist, a policy advocate for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. 'We are still in a wait and see position.'
About three months ago in Los Angeles, Immigration and Customs Enforcement head John T. Morton emphasized the agency's refocused priority in going after criminal offenders who are in the country illegally.
'We're focusing on the worst of the worstwe're focusing on those who are more serious offenders,' Morton said.