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September 15. 2006 11:09AM
Feds nab illegal immigrants in western Michigan

By JAMES PRICHARD
Associated Press Writer

GRAND RAPIDS ó Federal immigration officials have completed a five-day sweep of western Michigan in which they apprehended 54 fugitive illegal immigrants who had disappeared after receiving deportation orders.

They also captured an illegal immigrant with an extensive criminal history who had illegally re-entered the United States after being removed, officials at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Thursday.

The initiative, dubbed "Operation Return to Sender," started Sept. 8 and ended Wednesday. The agency focused its efforts within the triangle formed by Lansing, Grand Rapids and Battle Creek.

The sweep was part of an "interior immigration enforcement strategy" that is a component of a multiyear plan by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to secure the nation's borders and reduce illegal immigration.

The nationwide operation started in June and has resulted in the arrests of 2,179 illegal immigrants to date.

Agents and officers from the Detroit office of ICE, which is part of Homeland Security, carried out the enforcement operation. The sheriff's offices of Calhoun and Kent counties provided "significant assistance," ICE said.

Those arrested range in age from 20 to 62 years. They are citizens of 13 countries: Burma, Cambodia, China, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Korea, Mexico, Nicaragua, Turkey and Yugoslavia.

"Taking fugitive aliens off our streets remains a top ICE priority," said Robin Baker, field office director for the agency's Detention and Removal Operations Office in Detroit.

"The enforcement targets apprehended in this operation had their day in court and were ordered deported by a federal immigration judge. Each alien was allowed to the leave the U.S. on the judge's terms. Now they face deportation on ICE's terms."

Baker oversees an area that includes Michigan and Ohio.

Among the 55 people arrested, 11 have criminal records for convictions ranging from breaking and entering to assault with the intent to do great bodily harm. Fifty-four of the 55 failed to comply with final orders of removal issued by federal immigration judges.

The other person taken into custody is a six-time criminal who previously was deported, said ICE spokesman Gregory Palmore. Re-entering the United States after having been deported is a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison.