Federal agents have arrested 61 immigrants in a statewide operation that targeted people who lost asylum pleas but remained in the United States against judges’ orders, officials said Wednesday.
Federal officials also are pursuing so-called fugitive aliens, or absconders—men and women who have ignored a judge’s order to leave the country after losing an asylum claim. The Department of Homeland Security estimates there are more than 590,000 such fugitives living in the United States, and special Fugitive Operations Teams have arrested about 31,000 since March 2003.
“Those who fail to comply with lawful orders of removal should know that we are looking for you,” said Michael Rozos, field office director for ICE’s office of detention and removal in Florida. “We are committed to restoring integrity to our nation’s immigration system.”
However, new cases are arising at a rate of about 40,000 a year, far outpacing deportations. By September, ICE will boost its 35 fugitive operations teams by 17 to combat the problem.
“ICE has an obligation and every right to deport people here unlawfully,” said Cheryl Little, of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center. “But we’re concerned about the manner in which these roundups take place. They not only have a disturbing emotional impact—families are dismembered—but they’re also having a widely felt economic effect” in lost remittances.
For advocates on the other side of the debate, the number of absconders in the United States points to gaping holes in the immigration system. With the exception of Haitian immigrants arriving here by boat, most are not detained while judges hear their asylum pleas. And only a small percentage of immigrants who receive removal notices show up for final processing.
ICE has reported steady increases in overall deportations, from 149,523 in fiscal 2003 to 156,988 in fiscal 2004 and 167,742 in fiscal 2005.