Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers working out of the San Diego field office arrested 115 unauthorized immigrants over a large, three-day operation that ended Thursday, officials said.
Though the field office covers both San Diego and Imperial counties, all but seven of the arrests were in San Diego County. Though arrests happened in cities across the county, many were concentrated in North County, according to Greg Archambeault, field officer director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations in San Diego.
Officers from other parts of the country came to San Diego to help locate and arrest a targeted list of people who had criminal convictions or had been arrested on criminal charges, had been ordered deported by an immigration judge or had returned to the U.S. after being deported, Archambeault said.
“Operations like this reflect the vital work ERO officers do every day to protect the nation, uphold public safety and protect the integrity of our immigration laws and border controls,” Archambeault said. “We will continue to conduct similar operations, while seeking to ultimately deport at-large criminal targets and other immigration fugitives who pose a threat to public safety.”
Though reports of large-scale arrests have surfaced to much political controversy since President Donald Trump took office, this is the first such operation that the San Diego field office has publicized during his administration.
“We’ve done it under different administrations,” Archambeault explained. “It’s nothing new doing a large-scale operation, but we haven’t had one here for some time.”
It was coincidental that the operation started on the day of the president’s visit to San Diego, he said.
The majority of those arrested were from Mexico, and other arrests included citizens of Honduras, Guatemala, the Czech Republic, Kazakhstan and Peru.
Forty-three percent of those arrested had criminal convictions.
The agency highlighted several arrests, including a 43-year-old man from Mexico who lived in Oceanside and was a member of Center Street Locos gang. He had four prior deportations and multiple criminal convictions, including grand theft, controlled substance for sale and a DUI, officials said.
Officers also arrested a 55-year-old man from Kazakhstan who was wanted in his home country for alleged tax evasion and embezzlement. Interpol issued a “Red Notice” for the man in September.
People from Mexico who have already been ordered deported are generally taken quickly to the border after they’re arrested by immigration officials. Officers have to get travel documents for citizens of other countries who have been ordered deported before they can be removed.
Archambeault said officers try to start that process before making a targeted arrest.
People who have not yet been ordered deported will see an immigration judge to determine what happens to them.
Four of those arrested will be prosecuted in federal court on illegal reentry charges.
“A lot of these folks, we’ve been looking for them for a long time,” Archambeault said.
Though ICE officers can also arrest green card holders who have been convicted of crimes or otherwise violated their visas, Archambeault said that all of the arrests this week were of unauthorized immigrants.
When officers planned the operation, they made a list of more than 400 targets, Archambeault said. He said finding 115 people over a period of three days is a success.
He emphasized that the operation was part of routine ICE work.
“It’s just another day in the life of an ICE officer,” Archambeault said. “It’s the job. It’s what we do. It’s what the mission is.”
“We don’t conduct raids and sweeps,” he added.
Local ICE officers will continue to look for those who were not found this week through daily enforcement work, he said.
Not everyone arrested was on the target list, he said. Some of those arrested were “collateral arrests,” meaning they happened to be at one of the places where officers went looking for a target.
The agency did not have information on the number of collateral arrests.
“While the vast majorities of cities in America do cooperate with ICE, state laws in California force ICE to focus additional resources to conduct at-large arrests in the community, putting officers, the general public and aliens at greater risk and increase the incidents of collateral arrests,” ICE said in a statement announcing the arrests.
The Trump administration recently sued the state of California over Senate Bill 54, which took effect in January and limits what local law enforcement can communicate to federal immigration officers.
Archambeault said his field office has had and continues to have a good relationship with local law enforcement in San Diego. The new law, he said, has created a challenge for his officers, who no longer know when certain people they want to arrest are being released from county jail because the sheriff’s office is not allowed to tell them.
“It’s going to take more time and ultimately more money to pick someone up,” Archambeault said.
Archambeault anticipated that the agency would continue to use large-scale operations from time to time but did not know how far into the future that might be.
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