Inside the hunt for illegal immigrants

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Michael Lentz, of Rockford, is part of a team that apprehends illegal immigrants who have been ordered to leave the country but remain.

GRAND RAPIDS — It starts with the drive-bys.

Officers and agents from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement team gather in unmarked SUVs, drive past their targeted dwellings and look for evidence of someone home.

The goal is to “identify, locate, apprehend, process and remove fugitive aliens from the United States with the highest priority on criminally convicted fugitives,” said spokesman Gregory Palmore.

This is the Detroit team, one of 75 in nation. Its members have the highest success rate, Palmore said.

Members arrived for an operation here Friday and spent the first night in outlying areas such as Allendale, Sturgis and Ionia. They wrapped up late Monday night.

On Saturday, they allowed The Press to join them as they went to homes and apartments in Grand Rapids and surrounding communities looking for 31 criminals and noncriminal undocumented immigrants.

Don’t call them raids, Palmore said. Agents don’t stand outside of churches or businesses, swoop up everyone and ask questions later.

“Raids are random. These are all targeted enforcement actions for criminal aliens, fugitive aliens and immigration status violators when we encounter them,” he said.

Since the roundups started in 2003, 254 men and women in West Michigan have been arrested. Those targeted are men and women who have been before an immigration judge and ordered removed by a certain time. When they don’t comply, they are considered fugitives.

“There are ways to get into this country legally, and we’re not after those here legally,” Palmore said. “But for those who are here illegally, we’re looking for them. They are taking jobs, they are committing crimes. This is a priority.”

The work of the agents is slow and methodical, with hours of waiting, watching and gathering information.

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