ICE arrests 216 illegal migrants with cocaine, fentanyl and heroin convictions

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In a sweeping 12-day operation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) says it has arrested more than 200 illegal immigrants who have convictions for drug trafficking or multiple drug possessions.

The agency said that it has collared 216 illegal migrants from 30 different foreign locations who were dealing in hard drugs like cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine and other synthetic drugs.

The nationwide operation took place from March 11 through March 22 and covered 25 different jurisdictions, including major cities such as Boston, Seattle and Washington D.C.

Acting ICE Director P.J. Lechleitner in a press briefing today, left, and an ICE agent walking, right. (Fox Nation, left, David Dee Delgado/Getty Images, right)

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Of the 216 taken into custody, 36 have been deported, while the remainder are all expected to be booted out of the country in the near future, Acting ICE Director P.J. Lechleitner said in a press briefing.

“This operation enabled us to do what ERO’s (Enforcement and Removal Operations) were created to do, and that is focus on smart and effective immigration enforcement to protect our homeland by arresting and removing people who undermine public safety and violate the integrity of our immigration laws,” Lechleitner said.

Lechleitner said that nearly 420 non-citizens were identified in the operation, and those not yet apprehended are still wanted by ICE.

Lechleitner said that among those picked up by agents included a 44-year-old citizen of Mexico who was arrested in New Jersey and was convicted of money laundering, narcotics conspiracy and firearms possession in relation to drug trafficking.

A 34-year-old Salvadoran citizen was busted in Cincinnati and convicted of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute fentanyl while in Orlando, an Indian citizen in his early thirties was convicted of trafficking oxycodone and fentanyl.

Lechleitner highlighted the severity of some of the drugs the illegal immigrants were peddling, noting that there were nearly 110,000 drug overdose deaths in FY 2023 alone, citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) figures.

ICE agents immigration

ICE agents conduct an enforcement operation in 2022. ((Immigration and Customs Enforcement))

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“So, we’re on a mission to protect the American public by detaining and removing people who contribute to this horrible drug crisis,” Lechleitner said.

“And that’s exactly what this is, it’s a crisis. Although our resources are stretched thin, and we struggle to get the funding we need, we remain focused on targeting non-citizens who threaten the public safety of our communities during operations like this.”

Lechleitner said that ERO is helping with the deportation efforts of those captured, noting various factors come into play when deciding who to target for removal.

“There are inherent risks to chasing down and arresting potentially dangerous non-citizens in our communities. When we find out that a removable non-citizen is in police custody, we issue what’s called an immigration detainer,” Lechleitner said.

ICE detainers call on local law enforcement to notify the immigration enforcement agency when non-citizens are arrested on criminal charges and may be released so the federal agency can act and take that person into its custody.

“We do this to protect the American public, because the fact is that we have to arrest someone who is at large in a community. It’s inherently more dangerous. It’s dangerous for our officers. It’s dangerous for the non-citizen who’s running from justice, and it’s dangerous for the innocent people in our communities.”

All 216 illegal immigrants arrested were “at-large,” Lechleitner said.

Nurse holding syringe labeled fentanyl 50 mcg/mL

A healthcare worker prepares a syringe of fentanyl in this stock photo. The opioid drug has legitimate uses in a hospital setting but has also been blamed for a rising number of overdose deaths. (iStock)

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In FY 2023, ERO arrested 73,822 non-citizens with criminal histories. This group had 290,178 associated charges and convictions with an average of four per individual, the agency says.

These included 33,209 assaults; 4,390 sex and sexual assaults; 7,520 weapons offenses; 1,713 charges or convictions for homicide; and 1,655 kidnapping offenses.

ERO Deputy Executive Associate Director Russ Hott said that the operation was well executed.

“This operation reflects the Herculean efforts that ERO officers make each and every day to promote public safety, to rid our neighborhoods of the scourge of perilous drugs, and to disrupt the transnational criminal enterprises that prey on our communities through the introduction of fentanyl and other dangerous drugs,” Hott said.

“ERO personnel will continue to fight for the safety of our communities through the arrest and removal of those individuals who traffic drugs and exacerbate this terrible crisis.”

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