Federal authorities track down immigrants from 30 countries living illegally in the state
Homeland Security agents took to Ohio streets the past week, arresting 154 undocumented immigrants.
The agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Boston, Philadelphia, Buffalo and Detroit came heavily armed and loaded with files and warrants for deportation.
They took in immigrants from 30 countries and every continent save Antarctica. Among those arrested, 82 were from Mexico, followed by 19 from El Salvador and seven from Mauritania.
The men and women had been caught entering the country illegally and were ordered to court but never showed or had been ordered deported but never left, authorities said. Twenty had been charged with crimes. One was a reputed member of the Mexican street gang MS13.
No recent event spurred the sweep, government officials said.
"Sept. 11 showed us that, to have security, we have to have an immigration system with integrity," said Marc A. Raimondi, national spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Most of the Sept. 11 terrorists had taken advantage of lax enforcement, he said.
"You can’t have integrity if there is no consequence for abusing the laws or ignoring a court order."
Among those taken were immigrants who had been in the U.S. for a decade or more. They must leave homes, jobs and maybe children born here who are U.S. citizens.
"If they had complied and left 10 or 15 years ago, that wouldn’t be the case," said Rob Baker, field office director in charge of detention and removal for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Ohio and Michigan.
He noted that, by the end of September, seven agents will be based permanently in Cleveland to cover such operations throughout Ohio.
James E. Brown Jr., a deportation officer for the Immigration Fugitives Operation Unit in Boston, said agents received leads from other law-enforcement agencies and by running database searches against immigration court files.
Once in Ohio, the agents tapped local police and sheriffs to help confirm identities and homes of the immigrants.
Agents looking for a Mexican man found he had a barbershop in his basement. There they arrested several waiting men who had no proper documents. More came through the door, were questioned and taken in as well.
The agents can check names against an immigration database that lists who is in the country legally, who has overstayed a visa and more, Baker said.
In all, the agents arrested 68 they’d sought and 86 they came across.
The arrested were taken to the Seneca County jail; 72 Mexicans have already been flown home. Agents escorted them and handed them over to authorities in their homelands.
The agents were within their legal rights, said Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and a founder of the Network of Immigrant Organizations in Ohio. "People who enter the country illegally have committed a misdemeanor.
"The effectiveness of how we use the resources of this country is another matter."
A policy that would allow those seeking work to register and obtain a permit and the ability to travel would go a long way toward solving the perceived immigration problem, he said.
The vast majority of those who come here would register, allowing the border patrols and inland agents to concentrate on criminals, Velasquez said.
The government and immigrant study centers estimate that 9 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants are in the United States.
If the goal is to remove them all, "it will take some time," Raimondi said.
Velasquez said, "As many years it takes to find them all, more will come over the border."