WASHINGTON—In an unprecedented crackdown on more than 500,000 illegal immigrants who have not followed deportation orders, U.S. authorities this year are nearly tripling the number of federal officers assigned to round up such fugitives.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will deploy 52 fugitive-hunting teams across the nation by December, up from 17 teams last year, says John Torres, the agency’s acting director of detention and removal.
“It is one of our top priorities,” Torres says. “The message for absconders is this: While they think they may be able to flout immigration laws, this is not the case. They may get a knock on their doors very early in the morning.”
The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington put a spotlight on domestic security concerns, including the U.S. government’s problems in tracking down and deporting foreigners who are in the USA illegally. The fugitive teams were created in 2003. Various researchers estimate that 10 million to 11 million illegal immigrants are in the USA. The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, does not dispute that.
In part because tracking down all of those illegal immigrants is unrealistic, federal immigration agencies have focused on improving border security and on catching the approximately 536,000 illegal immigrants who are fugitives from the law.
The number of fugitives increases by about 35,000 annually, ICE spokesman Marc Raimondi says. The new teams are expected to arrest 40,000 to 50,000 fugitives annually, Torres says. That would be a dramatic increase in the rate of such arrests; since March 2003, ICE has arrested 32,625 fugitives, agency records show. The agency needs another 50 teams, Torres says.