SHSU Senior Esther Boyd did her internship with the Houston ICE office.
Boyd and Sanchez were assigned to the ICE Violent Criminal Alien Section (VCAS) in Houston, which identifies, processes and removes criminal aliens incarcerated in federal, state and local prisons and jails throughout Texas. It is part of a nationwide program to prevent criminal aliens from being released into the general public.
As part of a specialized unit targeting violent felony offenders, the two interns helped screen for the most egregious alien offenders, such as home invaders, child molesters, and gang members, for prosecution on a wide variety of federal criminal charges related to re-entry after deportation for those aliens found within the U.S. after having been deported.
“By working with the ICE officers and agents, it gave me a whole different perspective than what I read in the newspaper, watched on television or studied in a book,” said Boyd. “Immigration is very political and controversial, but ICE really does work with the bad guys and is not trying to rip families apart. When you see some of the crimes people committed, it gave me a whole new perspective.”
During the 2011 fiscal year, the Houston Violent Crime Alien Section received a U.S. Attorney Award for successfully investigating and indicting 456 cases in the Southern District of Texas, representing a 53 percent increase in federal 8 USC §1326 re-entry prosecutions over the previous year. That code, the fastest growing crime prosecuted by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, is a criminal offense of reentering the U.S. after deportation and carries general sentences of two to five years in the federal Bureau of Prisons.
Following his ICE internship, Kristopher Sanchez is in the process of getting a job with U.S. Border Patrol. "These cases do not represent those aliens who are within the United States illegally without any criminal convictions,” said the Supervisory Deportation Officer assigned to the VCAS Section of ICE. “These cases represent very dangerous criminal illegal aliens who have been previously convicted of very serious criminal activity by state and local law enforcement and then deported from the United States and subsequently arrested again within the U.S. after having been deported. These criminals are home invaders, child molesters, those who assault police officers and gang members for the Zetas, Houstones and MS-13.”
Each year, the Houston office reviews about 1,200 files of illegal aliens who are scheduled to be released from local and state prisons in Southeast Texas to find the worst offenders. The interns’ job was to wade through the inmate’s paperwork to help flag cases for the team. The interns would find the documentation needed for prosecution and build files for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the defense attorney and the U.S. Marshals Service.
Among the pertinent information required was warrants of deportation, legible fingerprints, criminal rap sheets, judgments and convictions. Based on the information, illegal aliens could be charged with reentry after deportation or other federal immigration offenses, including false claims of being a U.S. citizen, misuse of identification documents, and visa fraud. If convicted, the felons could remain behind bars before deportation.
“The interns were a force multiplier,” said the Supervising Deportation Officer, adding there are only five ICE agents in his office. “They did a lot of the review work that the officers don’t have time to do. They help triage the files that look good. It helps speed up the review of the file. They act like an officer-in-training.”
The Supervising Officer uses about two interns per semester, and he has always been impressed with the candidates from Sam Houston State University, College of Criminal Justice.
“We are impressed with them,” said the Supervisory Officer. “We don’t have to train them and they have a lot of ambition.”
During her internship with ICE, Boyd also got to experience other aspects of the agency. In the Fugitive Operations Office, she accompanied agents and officers on surveillance and arrests. Sometimes they would go to the probation office to arrest illegal aliens; other times they would stake out a home or worksite in hopes of catching a glimpse of the suspect.
“It was more action packed than sitting behind a desk ,” said Boyd. “You get to see what they do out in the field. To me, it’s really criminal justice related. You are really dealing with criminals even through you don’t go to the sites and pick them up.”
Sanchez said they also went to federal court to witness criminal prosecution of the immigration cases, and received fireams training on a Glock .40 caliber as well as defensive tactics training at the ICE shooting range. By observing ICE agents on the stand, Sanchez said he can learn what to do in case he is called to testify in court.
Sanchez, who graduated from SHSU in December 2011, said the internship also gave him the flexibility to apply for federal positions. He is in the process of testing for a job as a Customs Officer in Brownsville, where he lives. He hopes to return to one day to the ICE offices.
“My long term goal it to go back to ICE,” said Davidson. “They were pretty cool. I thought it was a great experience. The people there were really humble and supportive in the process. They were lenient in understanding if we made a mistaken and helpful in teaching us to do the work.”