In the many years before technology enabled virtually instant checks of a person’s immigration status, untold numbers of immigrants — legal and illegal — committed crimes, did their time and were released.
But federal immigration officials are now targeting them, as well, and in a three-day sweep by federal and local law enforcement agencies in Northern Virginia this week, 130 immigrants with prior convictions were taken into custody, officials said Wednesday at a news conference in Manassas.
While performing the “enforcement surge,” as Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton called it, police and federal agents also picked up eight fugitives and 25 people who already faced immigration violations, including three who had been deported.
Of the 163 arrests, 60 were made in Fairfax County, 37 in Prince William County, 20 in Loudoun County, 13 in Alexandria city and 11 in Arlington County. There were additional arrests elsewhere in the region.
Some of those picked up had been convicted of crimes such as rape, assault, burglary and drug possession, Morton said. But they had served their sentences and been released before immigration officials launched programs to check on and detain illegal immigrants.
About half of the those arrested — 64 — were in the country legally, and the rest were not, officials said. But even those with legal status, such as work permits or “green cards,” can be deported if they commit crimes of “moral turpitude” or receive sentences of a year or more.
“If you’re committing crimes here in our country,” Morton said, “and you’re here unlawfully, it’s time for you to go home.”
Morton said the operation was part of a continuing effort to cross-check with local agencies such as probation and parole departments and, using ICE’s resources, find people who have committed deportable offenses but have eluded detection. He said the initiative had been occurring across the country for two years.
One of the people picked up this week was a 21-year-old Mexican man in Harrisonburg who was a legal permanent resident but who had been convicted of sexual assault and received a five-year sentence. In Arlington, a 39-year-old legal resident from Ecuador with convictions for assault and battery, grand larceny and statutory rape was arrested. A 39-year-old British man in Madison, Va., also here legally, was picked up Monday after ICE found he had a conviction for aggravated sexual battery of a child.
“The criminals who were arrested the last three days,” Morton said, “are not the kind of people we want walking the streets of the commonwealth.”
An array of local officials stood behind Morton, including Prince William Police Chief Charlie T. Deane and Loudoun Sheriff Steve O. Simpson. Both said their departments’ work with federal immigration efforts had received large support in their communities.
Deane was among many police executives who said they feared that increased immigration enforcement would discourage crime reporting by victims and cooperation by witnesses. Deane said his officers experienced that problem initially, but improved community awareness of the benefits of immigration enforcement has gradually restored trust, and crime reporting, in the immigrant neighborhoods.
Prince William Board Chairman Corey Stewart (R) issued a statement saying the sweep was “a beginning step” but added, “This is certainly not enough, though. ICE and the federal government will show that they are serious about dealing with criminal illegal aliens when they begin to hold criminal illegals in custody until they are deported.” Stewart cited the cases of Carlos Montano and Jose Reyes Alfaro.
Montano was charged in a drunken car crash last year that killed a nun and seriously injured another. He had not been detained by immigration authorities despite several prior drunk driving arrests. Alfaro has been arrested in connection with the slaying of three people in Prince William in February and was in the country illegally.
Morton said he had issued a new policy at ICE that makes drunk drivers a higher priority when officials assess whom to deport. “We’re paying a lot of attention to DUIs.”
Morton said recent enforcement efforts were leading to unprecedented numbers of deportations. He said a record 195,000 people were removed last year, and “I am confident we will exceed that number this year.”
The 163 people swept up between Sunday and Tuesday came from 32 different countries in Latin America, the Middle East, Europe, Asia, the Caribbean and Africa.