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ICE traces illegal immigrants

The agents target fugitive immigrants who have ignored orders to leave, especially those with criminal pasts.

August 24, 2007|By Alicia Robinson

COSTA MESA — A pleasantly cool breeze and chirping birds on otherwise quiet streets gave no indication Thursday was about to become a bad day for at least two people in this city.

For both of them, it started the same way. A knock at the door, and half a dozen federal officers waiting outside, seeking each of them for the same reason: They were allegedly in the U.S. illegally and had ignored court orders of deportation.

Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement made two arrests in Costa Mesa Thursday as part of ongoing efforts to track down and deport illegal immigrants who have already been told to leave, particularly those who have criminal records or are suspected of recent crimes.

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An Orange County team of officers, formed earlier this year, brings the number of teams in the Los Angeles area to five. Recent statistics from immigration officials show they arrested 3,031 fugitive immigrants between Oct. 1, 2006, and Aug. 18.

Thursday’s operations — and, officials said, most others — didn’t disturb the early morning calm of the Costa Mesa streets they visited. No one kicked down doors, pulled guns or shouted, though they did draw the attention of neighbors, who rubber-necked as they drove by or walked their dogs. One man came out and stood shirtless on his lawn to watch.

“Very low-key, that’s exactly how we want it to occur,” Eric Saldana, assistant field office director for Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Los Angeles office, said after the first stop ended in a peaceful arrest. “I’ve actually chased people in their underwear out the back door and through apartment complexes.”

With Latino residents estimated to make up about 30% of Costa Mesa’s population, concerns about immigration reform have been inflaming passions in the Latino community here for years. The issue has been on the front burner since Mayor Allan Mansoor proposed in December 2005 the city take a greater role in immigration enforcement.

Now an immigration agent works in the city jail, checking the status of people booked by police on suspicion of other crimes. While the city jail checks sometimes find people with outstanding deportation orders, they’re the sole target of the federal team.

“The ICE fugitives that we look for have had their day in court. They’ve had the opportunity to file applications,” Saldana said. “We’re not the people making the decision.”

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