137 arrested in immigration roundup include felons, visa violators
Thursday, May 6, 2010 11:04 PM
By Stephanie Czekalinski
Immigration agents rounded up 137 people in the Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati areas over the weekend who they said were illegal immigrants.
Some of those arrested had committed crimes such as fraud and domestic violence, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Others had been ordered to leave the country by a judge or had been deported and came back, a federal crime that carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
ICE has repeatedly said that agents go after dangerous criminals, rather than undocumented immigrants who are living quiet lives.
“Criminal aliens are our priority,” said Khaalid Walls, an ICE spokesman. But some of the 137 people arrested between last Friday and Monday were not criminals. They are what ICE calls “immigration fugitives” because a judge had ordered them to leave the country and they did not, said Daniel M. Kowalski, editor of Bender’s Immigration Bulletin, a technical journal for immigration lawyers.
For example, sneaking into the United States is a crime, but being here without a visa is not. People who enter on visas and then stay after the visa expires face deportation but aren’t necessarily criminals, Kowalski said.
“ICE calls them a fugitive because it makes them sound better,” he said.
In 2009, about half of the more than 350,000 deportations nationwide were of criminals. ICE’s goal this year is 400,000 deportations – 85 percent of which would be of criminals, according to a February ICE report.
Some immigrants are labeled fugitives after ignoring a notice, known as a “run letter,” to leave. Others jump bail and don’t show up for court, Kowalski said, or have moved or missed a court date and don’t know they’re wanted.
ICE did not say how many people arrested over the weekend had re-entered after being deported, were criminals, or had been given a court order to leave.
Immigration-reform activists who favor a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the country say the law should differentiate between a person who overstayed a visa and a thief or a drug dealer.
“None of us condone criminal activity,” said Virginia Lohmann Bauman, the Ohio field director for immigration reform for Church World Service. “But innocent people who have done nothing other than overstay their visas get caught up, treated inhumanely and separated from their families.”
Detainees are being held at the Butler, Morrow and Delaware county jails, which have agreements with ICE to hold immigrants awaiting deportation, a hearing in immigration court or criminal prosecution.