US Immigration Customs Enforcement announced the arrest of 2,901 convicted criminal aliens over the past week who will now be removed from the United States.
Although the numbers from the week long enforcement operation, dubbed “Cross Check,” seem to be robust, ICE Director John Morton acknowledged that there are an estimated 1 million criminal offenders in the US who could be deported under US law.
“These are not people who are making a positive contribution to their communities. They are not the kind of people we want walking our streets,” Morton said at press conference Wednesday in Washington.
“For many years there have been far more people in the country than ICE can remove.” Morton said. “The best place to start is with criminal offenders.” Last month DHS Secretary Napolitano announced a policy shift to focus more on removing criminal illegal immigrants, and repeat immigration law violators instead of conducting enforcement operations again non-violent immigration violators.
“There are a large number of criminal offenders…The estimates vary but between, somewhere around a million people with criminal convictions who are subject to removal under the law.” Morton said.
The enforcement operation took place in all 50 states and targeted illegal immigrants with extensive criminal records and fugitives. Among the 2,901 individuals who were arrested ICE officials said that over 1,200 had multiple criminal convictions and 1,600 has serious felony convictions including manslaughter, attempted murder, armed robbery, kidnapping and sexual crimes against children.
According to ICE of the individuals arrested 151 were convicted sex offenders and 42 were gang members.
“You are going to see a sustained focus on criminal offenders from the agency, it is our highest priority,” Morton said, emphasizing that targeting criminal offenders can help lower crime rates. “We feel there is such a strong correlation between immigration enforcement and criminal offenders and public safety and law and order in communities.”
Morton also stood by a controversial DHS program called Secure Communities. Earlier this month an advisory ask force found serious concerns with a deportation program run by ICE because of confusion about the program and tensions the effort has created for state and local police.
Established in 2008 the deportation program, allowed the fingerprints of inmates in jails and prisons to also be searched in ICE’s databases for possible immigration violations.
“We have made a number of changes already to Secure Communities particularly strengthening the civil rights and civil liberties protections…making clear the program cannot be used to identify witnesses,” Morton said. “We are making sure it is focused on our priorities…Secure Communities makes sense.”