At the time of its formation in 2003, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) faced many challenges in meeting its mandate to restore integrity to America’s immigration system. Perhaps chief among these challenges were the growing number of fugitive aliens residing in the United States and the need to reinforce the relevance of removal orders issued by immigration judges. Fugitive aliens are those who have been ordered removed from the country but have failed to comply with that order. The 9/11 Commission recognized that this growing population represented a vulnerability to our national security and reported that abuse of America's immigration system and a lack of interior enforcement were among the many problems exposed by the 9/11 hijackers. ICE's Fugitive Operations Program was created in response to Congress’ mandate that this population be identified, arrested and removed from the United States.
And the fugitive operations teams have done just that. In 2007, ICE's efforts to aggressively target fugitive aliens resulted in the first-ever reduction in the population of fugitive aliens residing in the United States. In fact, over the last 18 months, that population has declined more than 80,000 or 12 percent.
In addition, the fugitive operations teams are targeting the most dangerous fugitive aliens and so far this fiscal year, have arrested 179% more criminal fugitive aliens than at the same point in time last fiscal year. Roughly 20% of immigration fugitives have been convicted of a crime in the United States, but all have proven their refusal to comply with immigration law. While ICE prioritizes our efforts by targeting fugitives who have demonstrated a threat to national security or public safety, we have a clear mandate to pursue all immigration fugitives – even those with no documented criminal history in the United States. History has proven that is a wise strategy.
In 2001, Marvin Gutierrez-Palma was ordered removed from the United States to El Salvador. Gutierrez-Palma had no criminal history at the time and was not detained during his removal proceedings. Like many others, rather than comply with the removal order issued by the immigration judge, he absconded and became an immigration fugitive. Today’s New York Times article regarding the Migration Policy Institute’s report on the ICE National Fugitive Program suggests that his sole status as an immigration fugitive would not have justified efforts to locate, arrest and remove him from the United States. In fact, the Times article would have you believe that targeting fugitives like Gutierrez-Palma represents a waste of taxpayer resources. We wholeheartedly disagree. As for Gutierrez-Palma, he was located through another of ICE’s enforcement programs – the Criminal Alien Program – after his 2007 arrest and conviction for rape, child molestation and forced imprisonment.
It is not good public safety policy to wait until immigration fugitives--who have already defied U.S. laws--commit a violent crime before we target them for arrest and removal. The risk-based model that ICE uses places the highest priority on the dangerous criminal fugitives who pose a potential threat to the community but it also ensures that we continue to pursue and arrest all fugitive aliens. Increased public safety through immigration enforcement can only be achieved through such proactive efforts. The goal is to prevent crime rather than simply to respond to it.
ICE's success in targeting fugitive aliens and reversing the upward trend is the result of strengthened investigations, improved case management and more efficient management of data on fugitives through upgraded information technology. Moreover, these operations are sending a clear message to fugitive aliens that their days in the United States are numbered, and thereby serve as a strong deterrent against future growth in the fugitive population.
The men and women of ICE work hard to execute the agency's law enforcement mission, and their work is having a real effect in improving public safety.
ICE Acting Assistant Secretary
Published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Washington, D.C.