596 criminal aliens arrested in targeted ICE operation throughout the southeastern U.S.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and its law enforcement partners arrested 596 foreign nationals with criminal records during a three-day enforcement surge throughout the southeastern United States, making it the biggest operation targeting at-large criminal aliens ever carried out by ICE in the region.

During the operation, which concluded late last night, ICE officers and agents worked in teams with the U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and local law enforcement agencies in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Puerto Rico.

Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for ICE John Morton cited the operation – which involved nearly 400 federal and local law enforcement officers and agents – as another example of ICE's focus on indentifying and removing criminal aliens from the United States.

"We are a compassionate nation with a proud history of immigration," said Morton. "But we are also a nation governed by laws specifically designed to protect its citizens and residents. Those who come to the United States to prey upon our neighbors and communities will be prosecuted for their crimes and ultimately returned to their home countries. The results of this week's operation demonstrate ICE's commitment to that principle."

Arrests in Florida and Puerto Rico accounted for the largest number of apprehensions during the operation where a total of 258 aliens were taken into custody. The Atlanta Field Office recorded the next highest number of arrests with 232. The arrestees, 544 men and 55 women, represent 60 different nations, including countries in Latin America, Asia, Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Because of their serious criminal histories and prior immigration arrest records, at least 12 of those arrested during the enforcement surge face federal prosecution. A conviction for felony reentry carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

Some of the worst of the offenders caught this week during Operation Cross Check include the following case examples:

* Oriel Bernard McCarthy, of Jamaica, was arrested Tuesday by the Atlanta Fugitive Operation Team in Jonesboro, Georgia. McCarthy was recently arrested for aggravated assault and possession of a weapon during the commission of a crime. McCarthy's criminal history includes convictions and arrests in four states, including New York, South Carolina, Maryland and Georgia for crimes including felony forgery, stalking, criminal domestic violence, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and manufacture, aggravated assault, sexual abuse and forcible contact, possession of stolen property, and robbery. He was ordered removed by an immigration judge on October 21, 2009 in New York City.
* Jose Oscar Avalo-Molina, of El Salvador, was arrested Wednesday by the Miami Fugitive Operations Team in Pembroke Park, Florida. Avalo-Molina's criminal convictions include first degree murder for which he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. On Feb. 28, 1991, he was ordered removed to El Salvador by an Immigration Judge. Avalo-Molina was removed on Aug. 13, 1997 and subsequently illegally re-entered. This case has been accepted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for prosecution for the crime of re-entry after deportation.

Any of the foreign nationals arrested during this operation who have active warrants will be referred to the associated local law enforcement agency and ICE will place detainers to ensure they return to ICE custody following disposition of their criminal cases. Those who have outstanding orders of deportation, or who returned to the United States illegally after being deported, are subject to immediate removal from the country. The remaining individuals are in ICE custody awaiting a hearing before an immigration judge, or pending travel arrangements for removal in the near future.

This week's special enforcement action was spearheaded by ICE's Fugitive Operations Program, which is responsible for locating, arresting, and removing at large criminal aliens and immigration fugitives — aliens who have ignored final orders of deportation handed down by the nation's immigration courts. ICE's Fugitive Operations Teams give top priority to cases involving aliens who pose a threat to national security and public safety, including members of transnational street gangs and child sex offenders. This week's operation focused on the apprehension of criminal aliens, which are not necessarily fugitives.

The officers who conducted this week's special operation received substantial assistance from ICE's Fugitive Operations Support Center (FOSC) located in South Burlington, Vt. The FOSC conducted exhaustive database checks on the targeted cases to help ensure the viability of the leads and accuracy of the criminal histories. The FOSC was established in 2006 to improve the integrity of the data available on at large criminal aliens and immigration fugitives nationwide. Since its inception, the FOSC has forwarded more than 550,000 case leads to ICE enforcement personnel in the field.

This week's enforcement operation is just one facet of the Department of Homeland Security's broader strategy to heighten the federal government's effectiveness at identifying and removing dangerous criminal aliens from the United States. As a result of this strategy, ICE removed a total of 136,126 criminal aliens from the United States last year, a record number.