Illegal Immigrants Arrested in New England

Nearly 200 illegal immigrants have been arrested in New England during the largest fugitive operation of its kind. Most of those arrested had outstanding deportation orders for violent crimes.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In New England, nearly 200 illegal immigrants have been arrested by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Most had outstanding deportation orders for violent crimes. It's the largest such operation ever by a field office. From member station WBUR in Boston, Monica Brady-Myerov reports.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV reporting:

The sweep, called Operation FLASH, arrested 85 illegal immigrants convicted of a wide range of crimes, including rape, arson and assault and battery. Sixty others arrested didn't have criminal records but have been ordered deported for other reasons. They're all now in the process of being deported. Bruce Chadbourne is the field office director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, in New England.

Mr. BRUCE CHADBOURNE (Field Office Director, Immigration and Customs Enforcement): Operation FLASH is a clear indication that ICE is out there apprehending fugitive criminal aliens and removing them from our streets and also our borders.

BRADY-MYEROV: Eighty percent of those arrested were incarcerated for their crimes and then released instead of deported. Deputy Field Director Jim Martin explains how this can happen.

Mr. JIM MARTIN (Deputy Field Director, Immigration and Customs Enforcement): If we're notified by an agency that they have somebody locked up, we'll lodge a detainer which basically tells that agency to hang on to that person. When they're done serving their sentence for the crimes they committed, they'll turn over to our custody, and then we'll remove the person. Sometimes we're not notified.

BRADY-MYEROV: The arrests chip away at a national backlog of some 100,000 illegal immigrants with criminal records who should be deported but aren't. After 9/11, President Bush called on law enforcement agencies to collaborate more. Sheriff Tom Hodgson of Bristol County, Massachusetts, says Operation FLASH is an example of this.

Sheriff TOM HODGSON (Bristol County, Massachusetts): We're now able to see law enforcement agencies now working more closely with prisons. We're sharing information about people who are in our custody who could potentially be involved in various activities, either locally or tied in to some groups outside the country.

BRADY-MYEROV: The operation led to the arrest of people in seven states, the majority in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Officials also arrested more than 40 people in the sweep who weren't targets but are in this country illegally. The majority of these people were processed and let go. The arrests have sent ripples of fear through immigrant communities. Ali Noorani, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, says targeting criminals is good, but he's concerned the government is casting the net too wide.

Mr. ALI NOORANI (Executive Director, Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition): So that they are also drawing in people who have overstayed a visa, who are really just trying to make ends meet. I would rather have it that the government is trying to find terrorists, people who are a real harm to our country, rather than people who are washing dishes and trying to make life better for themselves and their family.

BRADY-MYEROV: But Homeland Security officials point out, Americans are more likely to be a victim of violent crime in their own community than a victim of a terrorist attack. And, federal officials say the types of criminals arrested in the sweep have a 40 percent recidivism rate.

For NPR News, I'm Monica Brady-Myerov in Boston.

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