Sweep Nabs Over 200 Fugitive Immigrants in SoCal

Nearly two-thirds of the foreign nationals taken into custody locally had prior convictions for serious or violent crimes, such as child molestation, grand theft and firearms violations

A five-day nationwide operation targeting undocumented convicted criminal immigrants subject to removal from the US ended with over 2,000 arrests, over 200 in Southern California alone.

The operation, dubbed "Cross Check," involved hundreds of Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) officers and Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) focused on the arrests of public safety threats.

"This nationwide operation led to the apprehension of more than 2,000 convicted criminal aliens who pose the greatest risk to our public safety," said Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. "Today, communities around the country are safer because of the great work of the men and women of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement."

Cross Check began March 1, and ended March 5 with 2,059 people arrested, including 218 in the Southland. Those arrested are from 94 countries and more than half have felony convictions, including voluntary manslaughter, child pornography, robbery, kidnapping and rape.

One of the arrestees in LA, Freddy Giovanni Tojin, said he wasn’t expecting immigration agents to rush him outside his grandparents’ home during the nationwide sweep.

"Once I saw immigration, yeah, everything changed," Tojin said. His rap sheet points to convictions for domestic violence causing injury in 2010 and a weapons violation in 2012, to tattoos on his forehead of horns to go along with his street moniker of "Little Demon."

Tojin said he was in the process of turning his life around after a judge agreed to place him on probation.

"He gave me the opportunity to take off my tattoos, for the same reason, for my daughters," he said, choking up as he spoke of a 2-year-old and 4-year-old he could soon leave behind. "He saw my daughters going to court and I asked him for the opportunity, for the chance, and he said yes. He gave me three years probation and told me you've got to take off your tattoos and everything. I was trying to get my life straight again."

According to a spokesperson with ICE, the sweep's Los Angeles-area arrests were in six counties — Los Angeles (101); Orange (51); San Bernardino (24); Riverside (22); Ventura (16); and Santa Barbara (4).

Nearly two-thirds of the foreign nationals taken into custody locally had prior convictions for serious or violent crimes, such as child molestation, grand theft and firearms violations.

Fourteen of those arrested had ties to street gangs. While the vast majority of the criminal aliens arrested in the Southland were originally from Mexico (167), a total of 18 countries are represented, including Peru, Egypt, Armenia and South Korea.

A team of seven ICE agents swarmed Tojin the morning of March 2 in South LA. Sitting in a detention facility in downtown, Tojin spoke through tears as the seriousness of his situation sunk in.

"I don’t know, I’m just nervous for my daughters, I don’t want to be away from them," he said.

Tojin is on probation for a weapons violation but ICE agents say because of California’s AB 109, which allows for the early release of nonviolent prison inmates, and because of the January 2014 enactment of the Trust Act, rounding up fugitive immigrants has become a tougher and more dangerous job.

"That impacted us because they couldn’t hold these guys any longer, we didn’t have time to interview them," said Deputy Field Office Director of ICE, David Marin. "They were just released back onto the streets before we had a chance to either interview them, place a detainer, ask to have them placed into our custody."

But Tojin, like the thousands arrested in the five-day sweep, was targeted.

"We wouldn’t be targeting them unless we were sure we could remove them from the country," Marin said. "There are other obstacles in the way, it’s an immigration judge that makes that final decision."

For Tojin, he speaks with the hopes of the thousands taken into custody during the sweep, when he says he prays for relief in his case.

"I don’t want my daughters to look at me coming in and out of jail," he said. "They’re small right now and I don’t want them to look up to me or anyone like that, that’s not what I want."

For more information, visit www.dhs.gov.

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