Illegal immigrants have historically faced little chance of being caught and deported if they make it to non-border areas like Memphis.
But new immigration enforcement initiatives in the Mid-South likely mean more deportations are coming.
The efforts will focus on deporting illegal immigrants who have previous contact with immigration courts or the criminal justice system.
By November, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement plans to create a fugitive operations team in Memphis, said Temple Black, a spokesman for the federal agency. The initiatives won’t involve work site enforcement: a federal court is still weighing whether the Bush administration’s proposed new restrictions on hiring immigrants can go into effect.
The new team is likely to increase the visibility of ICE in Memphis as officers enter immigrant neighborhoods with arrest warrants for foreigners who haven’t followed an immigration court’s final orders to leave the country. The teams sometimes arrest other suspected illegal immigrants they find while looking for these people, whom the agency calls absconders.
In November 2002, there were an estimated 314,000 absconders at large in the United States, according to a federal General Accounting Office report. ICE says it places top priority on finding absconders who have criminal convictions.
ICE had only 82 employees in all of Tennessee in June 2007, according to the Web site of the federal Office of Personnel Management.
By contrast, the Memphis police department, which covers a much smaller territory, has 2,055 commissioned officers. Local police can’t enforce immigration law.
Despite ICE’s low manpower and law enforcement responsibilities ranging from child pornography to terrorism, it is arresting an increasing number of suspected illegal immigrants.
ICE said it arrested 6,905 in the 2006-2007 fiscal year in an area that includes Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. That’s more than double the number of arrests two years earlier.