Officials arrest 179 in immigration crackdown
LAS VEGAS (AP) – A six-day sweep in Clark County ended Thursday with the arrest of 179 illegal immigrants, 134 of whom were deported, according to officials who drew sharp criticism from immigration advocates and attorneys.
Federal agents from three states were recruited for the operation, which officials called the largest ever conducted in the Las Vegas area. The majority of immigrants seized were Mexicans, and officials said they targeted people who had violated final deportation orders, although most of those arrested did not fit that category.
“Our message here is simply if you’ve been ordered removed … you need to heed that order. Otherwise we’re going to find you, we’re going arrest you and we’re going to remove you from the country,” John Torres, the national director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Detention and Removal Operations, said at a new conference.
Of the 179 arrested, 87 were violating deportation orders and 92 were discovered to be in the country illegally by agents making the other arrests, Torres said. Eighteen also were wanted on separate criminal charges.
The announcement came hours before the U.S. Senate passed immigration reforms that have sparked weeks of protests and heated debate. Immigration advocates criticized the operation, saying it was procedurally flawed and politically motivated.
“I find it hard to believe that this wasn’t done to show Congress and the American public that they can deport people,” said Jeremiah Wolf-Stuchiner, a Las Vegas-based immigration attorney and the head of the local chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “Although people say it’s impossible to deport 11 million people living here illegally, ICE is showing they can do this.”
“It also tells people that you also shouldn’t protest,” Wolf-Stuchiner said.
Immigration officials denied the arrests were tied to the debate in Congress. They said the Las Vegas effort, dubbed “Operation City Lights,” was planned about a month ago.
ICE “fugitive operations teams” arrested more than 12,000 people from October 2005 to April 2006. Half of those were violating a judge’s deportation order, officials said.
Those arrested this week also included immigrants from Egypt, the Philippines, Samoa, El Salvador, Guatemala and one Iraqi national. Officials said those who had not yet been deported were awaiting travel documents from their home country. The Iraqi man arrested was issued a deportation order in March 2005.
ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said immigration officials intended to carry out that order.
“Whether it’s Iraq or Peru, we will reach out to officials in that country to obtain travel documents,” she said.
Wolf-Stuchiner, a former immigration enforcement agent, said the 92 people arrested without warrants may not have been arrested illegally.
“(Agents) would need probable cause and reasonable suspicion that they’re illegal. They cannot just demand that someone show them documentation,” he said.
Nancy Arseno’s husband was arrested Sunday at their Las Vegas home. Mario Arseno, 31, had appealed to the court for a stay of his deportation order while he attempted to reopen his case. His stay was denied in August 2003 and the Peruvian immigrant had been living illegally in the country since then.
“It was like a movie, it was like a SWAT team movie,” Nancy Arseno said, tearily describing how her husband was arrested while about a dozen agents surrounded their home and their six children watched from inside. “It was like they were doing a drug bust or something.”
Mario Arseno, a truck driver who has lived in the area for eight years, was sent to Los Angeles and is awaiting deportation.
Kice said Arseno and the other immigrants arrested received their due process.
“They are violating our laws they have been subject to a legal process. They’ve lost, they’ve been subject to a court order, they ignored it. (Arseno) has known for three years that he’s had no legal basis to be here.”
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