Immigration-sweep arrests jump 63 percent
Critics contend raids target more than criminals
By Rachel Uranga, Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 11/03/2007 01:23:13 AM PDT

>>> REACT: Do you think the increase in arrests of illegal immigrants is helping to solve the illegal immigration issue?
Putting more agents on Southland streets to carry out sweeps, immigration officials said Friday that they have made a record number of arrests this year of criminal immigrants and those who ignored deportation orders.

Nearly 2,700 were arrested during raids from the San Fernando Valley to San Bernardino during the year ending Sept. 30 - a 63 percent increase over the previous year.

"In the past, there wasn't a concerted effort to identify and locate people," said Jim Hayes, Los Angeles field office director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's detention and removal operation. "That has changed."

There are an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., with the largest concentration in the Los Angeles area. That number is difficult to estimate, but experts say about 2.4 million live in California.

Up until now, immigration officials rarely focused their attention on L.A., but with increased pressure to crack down on those living in the country illegally, agents have ramped up enforcement efforts.

Besides an increase in arrests, the number of illegal immigrants deported from Southern California has risen steadily over the past two years, from 10,352 in 2005 to 13,441 this year.

And in October, the head of ICE announced its largest sweep ever in the Southland, with 1,300 illegal immigrants taken into custody during a two-week operation.

The raids follow months of high-profile and



controversial roundups across the country, which have been decried by immigrant-rights activists who say the sweeps spread fear in immigrant communities.
They complain it's mostly immigrants with no criminal records who wind up being deported.

Of the 2,667 immigrants arrested over the past year, 576 had criminal histories, including a 34-year-old Maywood man convicted of involuntary manslaughter who had ignored deportation orders.

"We question the way they go about doing these arrests," said Angela Sanbrano, the director of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean communities, an umbrella group for several pro-immigrant groups.

Sanbrano said immigrants don't know their rights and are often too intimidated to open the door for agents who don't always have a search warrant.

"To some extent, it seems like it's a publicity campaign to show that they are doing their job," she said. "But to us it's worrisome when there are issues of racial profiling, constitutional rights, not to mention the fear that they generate in the community when they see ICE is picking up people."

The operation was part of the agency's wider strategy, dubbed Fugitive Operations Program, to focus on criminals and the 579,000 immigrants in the U.S. who have defied deportation orders.

Begun in 2003, it has garnered support from the Los Angeles Police Department and other law enforcement agencies.

"We welcome ICE's direct and targeted intervention in identifying criminal gang members, criminal offenders and habitual offenders that are here unlawfully," said LAPD Deputy Chief Michel Moore, who oversees police operations in the Valley. "As that occurs, our streets become safer."

Since October 2006, ICE has added 23 more teams of 10 agents nationally, including one in Orange County that targets fugitives and criminals.

Teams are expected to arrest about 1,000 illegal immigrants a year, and with five teams in Southern California Hayes expects next year's arrests to nearly double.

But immigrant-rights groups argue that the push to boost deportations distorts public priorities.

"We think their time is better spent in the jails and in the institutional hearings rather than the employment-based or neighborhood sweeps," said John Trasvi a, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. "They are looking for person A and they pick up person B and C. Those should not be priority removals. They are going overboard in terms of the people they pick up."

And, increasingly, they are seeing police agencies pick up the undocumented immigrants for minor offenses and then turning them over to ICE for immigration violations.

In the northeast reaches of the Valley patrolled by Foothill Division officers, police attribute part of the steady drop in crime to their weekly work with immigration officials.

Since March, the LAPD has helped ICE identify 32 street gang members and an additional 20 felony suspects, Capt. Joseph Curreri said.

"As far as I am concerned, it's 52 predators that are off the street," he said.

Moore stressed that though the LAPD is collaborating with ICE, it only targets violent criminals and gang members, not witnesses. And officers will not be asking anyone their immigration status - as the city's Special Order 40 prohibits.

Still, he said, "Nobody should look at LAPD as if we are going to give them sanctuary."