Team tracks down fugitives hiding in Indiana, in US illegally

ICE unit hunts criminals for deportation

INDIANAPOLIS - A team of federal officers works daily to track down criminals and fugitives living in the U.S. illegally and hiding in Indiana.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Fugitive Operations Team tracks people involved in homicides, rapes, robberies and the drug trade.

Access to ICE and its investigative unit is rare. The team is part of ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) program.

The group's top priority is tracking down those who live in the U.S. illegally and have criminal records, along with people who were previously deported and returned and those who ignored a court order to leave the country.

Nationwide, ICE is funded to remove more than 400,000 people who fit the profile. More than half of those have criminal convictions, compared to four years ago when it was only one-third.

In a six-state region that includes Indiana, 10,000 people were arrested and deported in 2013.

"Many individuals that we were targeting had multiple DUIs, convictions for burglary, theft, battery, assault, resisting law enforcement," said Gail Montenegro, spokeswoman for ICE. "These are not individuals that we want living next to us."

Anthony Bent left a land of beautiful beaches and warm weather in Jamaica years ago, but 12 years on the run came to an end recently when the fugitive team knocked on his door in Indianapolis.

"Ain't nothing wrong, Rafael. I'm going back to Jamaica. That's it, baby," he said.

Immigration officers had been planning for days to bring Bent in.

Tracking down fugitives is complicated because many use multiple aliases and addresses to stay undetected.

"The more egregious the criminal they are, the better they are at hiding," said Shawn Byers, assistant field office director for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations.

On another recent visit, officers didn't find a fugitive, but they encountered a relative in the country illegally. Because he isn't on any wanted list, he was let go.

More: Tracking fugitives ICE has been working to find

The same thing happened at another stop, where an undocumented man was released after officers realized his brother was using his identity. The brother is wanted in Indiana and Texas

"We are looking for the worst of the worst. As with any law enforcement agency, we have to prioritize our resources, and we are focusing those resources on criminal cases to maximize public safety," said Montenegro

Bent did little to keep his immigration status secret. He was convicted of theft in Indianapolis in 1978 and was sentenced for driving under the influence in 1982, burglary in 1985 and possession of drugs in 1998.

Bent, a father of 10, lost his appeal to stay in the U.S. in 2003 and snubbed a judge's deportation order.

"I'm not here because of the beauty. I came to the United States because I needed money," he said. "It's rough, man, looking over your shoulder. People knock at the door, you duck and dodge to see who it is."

Why does all of this matter? Fugitives are often transient and apt to commit crimes wherever they move.

"People usually don't commit crimes in places they live in. They go to other areas, and that is what everybody has to worry about," Byers said.

Bent's next landing involves a one-way flight to his island home.

ICE officers must make judgment calls every day. People in the U.S. with no criminal history often get a pass as long as they don't break other laws.

There are 129 ERO fugitive operation teams to find, arrest, and remove fugitive aliens, previously removed aliens and removable aliens convicted of a crime.

Last month, the ICE ERO branch conducted what it called "Operation Cross Check," which led to the arrest of 297 convicted fugitives and other immigration violators .

The arrests were made in six states -- Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri and Wisconsin -- in an operation that ran from May 18 to June 12.

Of the 297 arrests, 42 were made in Indiana. The breakdown of those in custody includes 24 people who are convicted criminals, 18 immigration fugitives and seven who had been previously deported and had illegally returned to the country.

ICE said the Indiana arrests, 38 men and four women, are from five countries. Thirty-six were from Mexico, three from Honduras, and one each from India, Guatemala and Zimbabwe.

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