ICE Crackdown

More than 2,000 criminal illegal immigrants were arrested over the past two weeks as part of a national immigration sting. As Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson reports, Operation Return to Sender apprehended 120 offenders in the Houston area and more than 400 throughout the state.

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Operation Return to Sender targets the most violent among the illegal immigrant community. U.S. Immigration and Customs officials arrested 2,179 criminal aliens and immigration violators since May 28th. ICE Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie Myers says roughly half of those arrested had criminal convictions, including sexual assault of a minor; drug trafficking and assault with a deadly weapon.

"America's welcome does not extend who come here to commit crimes or who come here illegally. And ICE will leave no stone unturned in finding and deporting these individuals who victimize our communities."

More than 800 of those arrested have already been deported to their home countries. Others may be prosecuted through the U.S. justice system. ICE Detention and Removal Acting Director John Torres says last year ICE removed 84,000 criminal aliens from the country, but there are few statistics on how many more remain in the U.S.

"What is difficult to establish is whether or not there is an alien here who is legally in the United States or whether that person was born abroad and is maybe a naturalized U.S. citizen, whether or not they're actually someone we can remove. So if you were to go poll the state prisons, for example, there is potential data that there may be as many as 300,000 people in our state prison system. That doesn't account for how many people may actually be out on the streets though."

Operation Return to Sender involved three different operations to apprehend fugitive immigrants, foreign-born gang members and predatory criminals. Myers says ICE will have 52 field teams focused on these efforts and the department is asking President Bush to include additional funding in his fiscal year '07 budget to add another 20 teams.

"We have to use intelligence, we have to gather the intelligence on these people to go out and get them. But you will continue to see numbers go on throughout the year."

Myers says Texas yielded up 424 arrests, but she adds there don't seem to be any significant hot spots. Arrests were made throughout the nation, including the midwest. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.

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