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Friday, November 6, 2009

Operation ATLAS: Targeting Illegal Cash Couriers Worldwide

Today Secretary Napolitano and World Customs Organization Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya joined together in Brussels to announce the results of an unprecedented international law enforcement operation that led to the seizure of more than $3.5 million in smuggled cash over a five day period.

Dubbed Operation ATLAS (Assess, Target, Link, Analyze and Share), this groundbreaking investigation brought together law enforcement agencies from over 80 countries worldwide to target and disrupt cash couriers--people employed by criminal organizations to move their illicit funds across international borders.

$11.2 million seized from a shipment at the port of Buenaventura, ColombiaOperation ATLAS focused on identifying these illicit cash couriers by employing several different methods to detect cash carried in baggage, on travelers and in shipments aboard commercial flights at designated airports. ATLAS also promoted the sharing of information and intelligence among customs agencies. In the United States, this operation was led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), with participation from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and coordinated by the World Customs Organization.

Operation ATLAS is the latest and largest example of how increased international cooperation among law enforcement and customs agencies has resulted in the identification of new smuggling routes and methods used by criminal organizations throughout the world.

In September, ICE worked closely with law enforcement partners in Colombia and Mexico to uncover more than $41 million smuggled in shipping containers bound for Colombia. And in July, an ICE-led multilateral operation targeting cash couriers seized more than $3.5 million and detected an additional $4.2 million in undeclared currency at ports of entry around the globe.

This level of multilateral coordination is truly unprecedented and illustrates how the Department and our international allies are working together to shut down criminal organizations’ old ways of doing business.

John Morton
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Southwest Border

Secretary Napolitano on border with ICE agents.
Last week I traveled to Mexico, with brief stops in California and Texas. The purpose of my visit was to meet with my foreign counterparts, assess the situation on the Southwest Border with respect to drug cartel violence, hear directly from federal, state, tribal, and local officials, and announce some additional resources we are deploying to the border to help Mexico in its fight against these dangerous cartels.

In California, I met with state and local leaders in San Diego, toured the border and visited the Otay Mesa port of entry – one of the busiest commercial ports on the Southwest border.

More than $400 million in Recovery Act funds is being directed to the Southwest border. This money will be used to upgrade infrastructure at the ports of entry, add technology and inspection equipment, and strengthen our surveillance and communications capabilities.

In Mexico, I visited with my foreign counterparts, and along with Attorney General Holder, attended an important conference on arms trafficking. The smuggling of guns is a serious problem and contributes to a lot of the violence we’re seeing in Mexico among the drug cartels and organized criminal networks.

To combat the problem, we are moving substantial resources to border, including more than 360 additional DHS officers and agents, license plate readers that will allow us to scan for suspect vehicles, southbound rail screening, and additional grant funding for state and local law enforcement. These measures will help us counter the flow of guns and cash into Mexico while protecting cities and communities along the border.

Finally, on my return, I stopped in Laredo, Texas to meet with community leaders, speak with members of the Laredo Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST), which is a multi-agency law enforcement team that fights criminal organizations and smugglers, and visit the Laredo port of entry. In recent weeks, we’ve made several significant seizures of cash and guns in Laredo, including more than $3 million discovered in a hidden compartment in the floor of a bus bound for Mexico.

Examples like this impede the ability of criminal organizations to fund their activities. Since the start of this fiscal year, CBP and ICE together have seized more than $55 million in cash, over 630 weapons, and nearly 125,000 rounds of ammunition.

We’re going to continue to keep the pressure on. I consider this a historic opportunity to help Mexico confront a serious threat that impacts the safety and security of both of our countries. We all have a stake in this fight, and here at the Department we’re going to continue to do our part to make sure we succeed.

Janet Napolitano

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

ICE Focus on Immigration Fugitives Getting Results

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.

John Torres
ICE Acting Assistant Secretary

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