U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Wednesday that the agency has successfully completed a seven-day operation, which netted the arrests of 2,900 convicted criminal undocumented immigrants in all fifty states and four U.S. territories. Dubbed Operation Cross Check, the massive sting included the arrests of 1,600 individuals previously convicted of felonies, including manslaughter, attempted murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, drug trafficking, child abuse, sexual abuse and assault. The arrestees came to the U.S. from 115 countries, and 681 of them are fugitives running from their country of origin.
The announcement of Operation Cross Check came yesterday in the form of a congratulatory press conference, highlighting the Obama administration’s newly established focus on apprehending and deporting only high priority criminal immigrants. ICE officials acknowledged at the press conference that the previous week’s 2,900 arrests represent only a fraction of the estimated one million criminal immigrants currently living illegally in this country. However, officials point to the success of the operation as indicative of the agency’s long term focus on apprehending this particular segment of the immigrant population.
In Arizona, ICE officials apprehended 56 criminal immigrants through Operation Cross Check, forty-six in the Phoenix area, as well as seven in Tucson. This number seems particularly small to some, considering the state’s large immigrant population. ICE officials, however, explain this discrepancy by pointing out that the vast number of migrants traveling through Arizona are en route to other places throughout the country, and thus this is where the bulk of the 2,900 were arrested.
Although many are applauding Operation Cross Check as well as ICE’s various recent successes in arresting and deporting convicted criminal immigrants, some continue to be dissatisfied with the agency. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, for one, argues that the agency’s focus on deporting felony convicts diminishes the fact, as he sees it, that all undocumented immigrants in this country are criminals and thus all deserve deportation.
On the other hand, some immigrant rights groups are concerned that these arrests further perpetuate the stereotype that the larger immigrant community is rife with crime, thus contributing to an environment of Latino-phobia among the larger public. Crime statistics show that this is not the case, as legal and undocumented immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born U.S.-Americans. As U.S. authorities go after immigrant criminals in such a publicly visible fashion, it distorts the reality, and falsely creates the impression that the U.S. is in the grips of an immigrant crime wave.