Feds Caught and Released 28 Iranians Who Became Fugitives Inside U.S.; ICE Won’t Say What Happened to Them

October 18, 2011 - 2:51 PM
John Morton

Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton.

(CNSNews.com) - During fiscal years 2009 and 2010, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, caught, detained and released at least 28 Iranian nationals inside the United States who then became fugitives when they failed to show up for immigration proceedings.

Four of the Iranians who became fugitives had been caught early in fiscal 2009 while President George W. Bush was still in office. The other 24 were caught after President Barack Obama was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2009.

Two of the four Iranians caught and detained under the Bush administration were not released from detention until Obama came to office. Thus, a total of 26 Iranian nationals caught and detained by ICE in fiscal years 2009 and 2010 were released inside the United States under the Obama administration and then became fugitives.

CNSNews.com obtained this information--which had been updated as of Jan. 5, 2011--through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed with ICE.

To see an Excel file of the information on the Iranian fugitives that ICE provided to CNSNews.com click here.

Over the last three business days, starting on Oct. 14, CNSNews.com attempted to find out from ICE how many of the 28 Iranians who were caught and released and became fugitives in fiscal 2009 and 2010--and who were considered fugitives as of Jan. 5 of this year--were still at large as of now.

ICE initially said that, given time constraints, it would be unable to immediately say whether any of the 28 Iranians it had considered fugitives as of Jan. 5 had been apprehended in the intervening time.

When CNSNews.com told ICE it would wait to report on the data until ICE could find out how many of the Iranian fugitives had been apprehended since Jan. 5, ICE Spokesperson Gillian Christensen told CNSNews.com that ICE prioritizes going after immigrants who might be terrorists and that “is all we are going to be providing on this issue.”

"ICE fugitive operations teams around the country work every day to apprehend individuals who have ignored an immigration judge's order to leave the country. In keeping with ICE's focus on removing those who potentially pose a threat to national security or public safety,” Christensen told CNSNews.com in the statement, “ICE prioritizes the apprehension of individuals who may have ties to terrorist activity or who have serious criminal histories."

Iran has been designated by the U.S. State Department as one of four state sponsors of terrorism. The other three are Syria, Sudan, and Cuba.

The data on the Iranians that ICE released to CNSNews.com shows certain patterns. Of the 28 who were released and became fugitives, 24 were males. Three were known to be females. Curiously, ICE designated one of the fugitives as having an “unknown” gender. This person of “unknown” gender was booked by ICE on Jan. 6, 2010 and released on Jan. 7, 2010. The person was booked in ICE’s “area of responsibility” based in Dallas, Texas.

ICE booked all but seven of the 28 fugitives in three states that border on Mexico: Texas, Arizona and California.

Of the other seven who were not booked in one of these three states, two were booked in Boston, two in New York City, one in New Orleans, one in Atlanta, and one in Detroit, which borders on Canada.

The number of Iranians who became fugitives after being booked by ICE in fiscal years 2009 and 2010 could be larger than the 28 who were specifically listed as “fugitives” in the “case category” column of the database ICE provided to CNSnews.com. That is because ICE left the “case category” column blank in the database for 204 of the 537 Iranians listed.

Iranian plot

An undated image of Manssor Arbabsiar. (AP Photo/Nueces County sheriff's office)

Last week, the Justice Department charged Mansour J. Arbabsiar, a naturalized American who had emigrated from Iran, with plotting to hire Mexican drug traffickers to assassinate Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States. “Arbabsiar, now in custody in New York, stands accused by federal prosecutors of running a global terrorist plot that stretched from Mexico to Tehran, and that was directed by the Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guards,” the New York Times reported.

The alleged plan was to kill Jubeir with a bomb detonated at a Washington, D.C. restaurant.  “For the site of the bombing, the informant suggested a Washington restaurant where Jubeir ‘goes out and eat[s] like two times a week,’ according to the recordings,” the Washington Post reported. “When the informant noted that bystanders could be killed in the attack, including U.S. senators, Arbabsiar dismissed these concerns as ‘no big deal,’ court documents say.”

Arbabsiar had previously been in the used-car business in Texas.

“There are individuals in the Iranian government who are aware of this plot,” President Obama said last week. “And had it not been for the outstanding intelligence work of our intelligence officials, this plot could have gone forward and resulted not only in the death of the Saudi ambassador, but also innocent civilians here in the United States.”– During fiscal years 2009 and 2010, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a division of the Department of Homeland Security, caught, detained and released at least 28 Iranian nationals inside the United States who then became fugitives when they failed to show up for immigration proceedings.

Four of the Iranians who became fugitives had been caught early in fiscal 2009 while President George W. Bush was still in office. The other 24 were caught after President Barack Obama was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2009.

Two of the four Iranians caught and detained under the Bush administration were not released from detention until Obama came to office. Thus, a total of 26 Iranian nationals caught and detained by ICE in fiscal years 2009 and 2010 were released inside the United States under the Obama administration and then became fugitives.

CNSNews.com obtained this information--which had been updated as of Jan. 5, 2011--through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed with ICE.