IT WAS DAYBREAK—not quite 5:30 a.m.—and a sprawling apartment complex in Burien, popular among immigrants, was stirring to life.
At an hour when a few residents were leaving for work but most were still asleep, a team of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers had come in search of a single target: a mother of four who, after violating a no-contact order nearly a decade ago, was ordered removed from the country.
While bigger work-site raids grab large numbers of illegal immigrants and splashy headlines, raids at private homes go largely unnoticed.
They happen almost daily, part of an aggressive nationwide effort to find and deport more than 600,000 immigrants for whom a judge has issued a final order of removal.
Who’s targeted, and why
Seattle’s fugitive-operations team, launched in April 2004, is one of 61 across the country. One was started in Portland last fall, and one will be in place in Yakima by September.
Their list includes some 9,000 fugitives scattered across Washington, Oregon and Alaska.
Some of these immigrants come to the attention of authorities when their illegal immigration status is discovered, either in a workplace raid or some other encounter. Others break the law.
They become fugitives after failing to show up at an immigration hearing, or going on the lam after a judge orders them removed.
“Everything’s targeted” to those on the list, director Clark said, though if officers do get inside a home and find illegal immigrants not on their list, “we might get incidental arrests.”
The fugitive teams use a range of resources to find fugitives—driver’s-license databases, credit-card purchases, property records.
The raids begin before sunrise, increasing the likelihood that the team will get to a target before he or she leaves for work.
Because the team’s operations are administrative in nature, not criminal, they may enter only with an immigrant’s permission.
If they do get inside—and they usually do—officers search the home for other illegal immigrants. They collect and check all driver’s licenses.
Dignity but no apologies
In the last of the day’s three raids, three more people were arrested. Angel Hernandez, 38, was the team’s target. His brother and sister became collateral arrests.
Hernandez said he was employed in the fishing industry in Alaska when he was picked up in a 1994 work-site raid.
He was released on bond with an order to report at a future date before an immigration judge in Seattle, and said he moved here with the intention of doing so. But he never received further notice, he said, and in his absence a judge ordered him removed.
On Friday, he was deported.