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BICE statement before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security

Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 04020412 (posted Feb. 4, 2004)"

Statement
of
MICHAEL GARCIA
ASSISTANT SECRETARY
BUREAU OF IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT
DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY

BEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON JUDICIARY
SUBCOMMITTEE ON CRIME, TERRORISM AND HOMELAND SECURITY
FEBRUARY 3, 2004

Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Congressman Scott, and distinguished Members of the Committee. It is a privilege to be here today to discuss the steps the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE) has taken to meet the considerable responsibilities that come with being the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security. BICE is comprised of some of our Nation's oldest and most recognizable law enforcement agencies and their combined responsibilities place BICE directly on the front line of protecting our homeland. We recognize and accept this responsibility and remain committed to fulfilling our combined missions.

While BICE is a new agency, we are committed to enforcing and enhancing the traditional law enforcement mandates of our legacy agencies. When creating BICE, our mission was to create a unified law enforcement agency capable of bringing all its law enforcement tools to bear, in an efficient and effective manner, on the vulnerabilities to our homeland security. The mission of homeland security is to address vulnerabilities-vulnerabilities that open our borders to infiltration and our financial systems to exploitation; and vulnerabilities that weaken our national security and expose our citizens to attack. The mission of BICE is to implement proactive initiatives aimed at closing vulnerabilities and strengthening national security. The merger of the combined jurisdiction, broad legal authorities, and investigative expertise of the former agencies has enhanced and expanded the investigative activities of BICE. These authorities include the investigation of a wide range of crimes, including violations of immigration laws, money laundering, migrant and contraband smuggling, trade fraud, import and export violations, including those linked to Weapons of Mass Destruction, and cyber crimes, including Internet child pornography.

On March 1, 2003, an impressive array of resources were brought together to create what would become known as BICE. Our charge was to continue the critical mission of each of the organizations comprising BICE, while integrating and ultimately enhancing the operations within our new Bureau. BICE brought together the investigative and intelligence functions of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the U.S. Customs Service (USCS), the Detention and Removal function of the INS, the Air and Marine Operations of USCS, the Federal Protective Service (FPS), and Federal Air Marshals (FAMS) from the Transportation and Security Administration (TSA).

This merger brings together thousands of dedicated law enforcement professionals, including 5,500 Special Agents; 4,000 Detention and Removal employees; 1,500 Federal Protective Service employees; and Federal Air Marshals. BICE is now the largest Federal law enforcement bureau and a key investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security. Our primary focus has been to integrate all of these resources in a manner that would allow us to further enhance the investigative efforts aimed at protecting our homeland without interruption of the longstanding enforcement duties of our former agencies. We are accomplishing these goals and meeting the new challenges of the 21st century at the frontline as we continue to develop as a premier law enforcement bureau.

In June 2003, BICE created a unified field structure for Investigations by creating 25 BICE field offices within a strengthened chain of command; placed the Federal Protective Service, Detention and Removal Operations, the Air and Marine Operations, and the Federal Air Marshals at Division status to reflect their unique capabilities, and created a unified Intelligence Division. We will continue to bring to bear all the specialized skills and knowledge of our personnel and continue to create unified programs for training, firearms and investigative support.

The BICE Investigations Division has continued to execute the enforcement mandates of both the immigration and customs statutes. By combining our capabilities and expertise, BICE has realized significant synergies and been able to leverage resources to meet the inherited challenges and find new methods to overcome new challenges.

BICE's newly created alien smuggling unit is an excellent example of how resources that were once spread over several agencies have been integrated into one unit. This integration enhances BICE's ability to uncover and shut down vulnerabilities in our national security. Set up to identify and dismantle criminal enterprises that prey on persons who enter the country illegally, this unit works closely with all of our operational components to leverage our expertise and unique authorities. The combination of these investigative efforts enables BICE to comprehensively explore all aspects of the violation.

Last year, BICE launched Operation ICE Storm, an unprecedented multi-agency initiative to combat human smuggling and the violence it has generated in Arizona and nationwide. In support of the operation, BICE deployed 50 additional Special Agents to the Phoenix area. These resources enhance BICE's investigational capabilities and its ability to respond to local law enforcement. ICE Storm was developed to attack the smuggling-related violence that has grown in the Phoenix area at an alarming rate. Court statistics show that, from January through October 2003, Phoenix experienced a 45 percent increase in homicides when compared to the same period during the previous year. Over the last few years, there have also been a significant number of incidents involving extortion, kidnapping, and home invasions. In 2002-2003, there were 623 such incidents, 75 percent of which were the result of human smuggling or related activity.

The BICE led task force uses its broad range of authorities and resources to dismantle organized crime outfits that have turned human smuggling into a bloody but profitable venture. For example, a critical facet of ICE Storm involves targeting the monetary assets of smuggling organizations. Following the money trail and crippling the organizations' financial infrastructure is crucial to disabling the smugglers' operations. A financial analysis by BICE showed that during a six-month period in early 2003 more than $160 million were funneled into Phoenix through money transmitting businesses.

As a result of these efforts, ICE Storm has resulted in over 700 arrests, 90 indictments, nearly $2 million in seizures and 46 assault weapons taken off the streets in the first 180 days of the initiative.

Another investigative effort that brought to bear BICE's combined authorities and expertise was demonstrated in a case in Victoria, Texas, where 19 migrants died while attempting to enter the U.S. illegally concealed inside a locked tractor-trailer which was then abandoned by smugglers. By drawing on the array of assets now available, BICE investigators were able to quickly identify and locate the smugglers responsible and follow the money trail to the ringleader, who had fled the United States. The investigation resulted in 19 indictments, the extradition of the ringleader, who with her co-conspirators, are awaiting trial. In addition, an undercover operation conducted in conjunction with this investigation resulted in the rescue of a 3-year-old boy from the same band of smugglers. His captors were subsequently apprehended and arrested. These types of criminals are exploiting vulnerabilities in our border security for financial gain; however, their human cargo could just have easily been a group of terrorists. For these reasons, BICE has made alien smuggling investigations one of our top priorities.

In addition to investigating alien smuggling organizations, BICE is dedicated to the continued investigation of smuggling organizations that transport illegal narcotics that pose a significant threat to our nation's border security and the well being of our citizens. BICE is a major contributor to the disruption and dismantling of major narcotic organizations. In fiscal year 2003, BICE agents arrested over 12,000 individuals on narcotics related charges. If organized crime rings can lead illegal aliens into the country, terrorists can use the same methods to infiltrate our borders. If narco-traffickers can smuggle cocaine into the country, terrorists can surreptitiously bring in components for weapons of mass destruction.

Currently, there are approximately 400,000 absconders in the United States. Absconders are individuals who have violated U.S. immigration laws, were ordered to deported, and fled before they could be deported from the United States. BICE is committed to the complete removal of all criminal absconders and has prioritized by identifying the "Most Wanted" criminal offenders. Two months after BICE publicly released the list of the "Top Ten Most Wanted", nine of them were apprehended and the tenth was confirmed out of the country. In prioritizing the worst offenders, we noticed that a number of them were sexual predators, many of whom had records of preying on children. As a result, on July 9, 2003, BICE launched Operation Predator, an initiative aimed at bringing to bear all of our powers and authorities that could be used to protect our children - America's future and the essence of our homeland. Since it's inception, BICE has arrested more than 1,835 predators and have deported or initiated deportation proceedings against those who are foreign born nationals. BICE will continue to remain committed to protecting our children through the relentless enforcement of Operation Predator.

In July 2003, BICE announced "Cornerstone", a BICE Financial Investigations Division program designed to identify vulnerabilities in our Nation's financial systems through which criminals launder their illicit proceeds. Cornerstone is focused on identifying systems that are being exploited by criminal or terrorist groups. Through this proactive approach, BICE systematically and strategically examines financial systems that may be susceptible to exploitation. BICE identifies criminal organizations that are exploiting these financial systems. BICE employs a methodology of attacking the exploitation, disseminating findings through liaisons to the financial and trade sectors, and working toward enhancing money laundering laws and regulations. Cornerstone enables BICE to focus its unique competencies and authorities on stopping this exploitation through intelligence gathering, implementing "fixes" where necessary to protect the integrity of our financial systems, and referring investigations for prosecution.

Since March 1, 2003, BICE financial investigations have yielded 1,213 arrests and bulk cash seizures of more than $75 million. Agents of BICE's El Dorado Task Force in New York City have arrested more than 1,800 individuals and seized nearly $560 million in criminal proceeds. These existing financial investigations, which have been merged with Cornerstone, will aid the financial industry to eliminate the industry-wide security gaps that could be exploited by criminal organizations. As Secretary Ridge stressed in his announcement of Cornerstone, "Money is the lifeblood of terrorist networks." Through Cornerstone, BICE continues to safeguard the integrity of America's financial systems as part of our dedication to homeland security.

BICE's Arms and Strategic Technology Investigations Program enforces import and export control laws and prevents terrorist groups and hostile nations from illegally obtaining U.S.-origin military products and sensitive dual use technology. On March 7, 2003, BICE Special Agents arrived in the Iraqi Theater of Operations (ITO) to support the U.S. Central Command (CentCom) in Operation Iraqi Freedom. A total of 15 Special Agents were initially deployed to assist CentCom in identifying U.S. persons or entities that may have aided or assisted Iraq in the development of its weapons programs, or in the acquisition of defenses articles, or controlled dual use technology or products, or engaged in prohibited financial transactions with Iraq.

To this day, BICE continues to maintain teams of Special Agents in the ITO. The first U.S. charges to result from leads generated by the BICE teams in Iraq occurred on October 15, 2003, when a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia indicted two individuals on charges of brokering the manufacture and export of six armored patrol vessels, valued at a total of $11 million, to the Iraqi military. At least three of the military vessels were completed in Iraq before the war and had been deployed by Iraqi military forces. Both individuals were arrested by BICE special agents, subsequently indicted, and are awaiting trial in the United States.

In July 2003, BICE Special Agents executed 18 Federal search warrants throughout the United States to disrupt an Iranian smuggling network that was illegally procuring parts and components for military fighter aircraft and missile systems through a company called MULTICORE located in London, England. Additionally, in August 2003, BICE and FBI agents in New Jersey arrested a British national named Hemant LAKHANI and two other individuals for attempting to smuggle a Russian-made Man Portable Air Defense System (MANPADS) into the United States. In addition, LEKHANI was also attempting to sell 50 additional MANPADS to undercover personnel.

America's welcome is also being exploited by human rights violators who enter the United States in an attempt to avoid being brought to justice for their heinous crimes. Their mere presence here undermines the values and ideals that are the foundation of this Nation. BICE is committed to preventing this country from becoming a safe haven for foreign criminals and we have backed that commitment by creating the Human Rights Violators Unit. This specialized unit is dedicated to identifying and investigating human rights violators and assisting in their removal from the United States.

In September 2003, BICE agents in Miami, Florida, arrested Frantz Douby, a former Haitian military official who had been convicted in absentia for his involvement in the 1994 Raboteau massacre where dozens of villagers were beaten and shot to death. Three other former Haitian military officers linked to the massacre have already been deported.

BICE has created several additional programs to address vulnerabilities that threaten our national security. For example, BICE established a Compliance Enforcement Unit to ensure that individuals comply with the requirements of the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), and the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US VISIT) program. SEVIS is an Internet-based system that maintains critical, up-to-date information about foreign students and exchange visitors, as well as their dependents, which can be accessed electronically. SEVIS enables the government to track students in the United States more accurately and expeditiously. US VISIT is a program designed to collect, maintain, and share information, including biometric identifiers, through a dynamic system, on foreign nationals to determine, among other things, whether individuals (a) have overstayed or otherwise violated the terms of their admission, (b) should be denied admission into the United States, (c) should be allowed to change, extend, or adjust their immigration status or (d) should be apprehended or detained for law enforcement action.

The vast majority of students come to the United States to take advantage of the outstanding educational and training opportunities our Nation has to offer. Unfortunately, this system can be exploited by those who seek to do us harm, as we witnessed in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and then subsequently on September 11, 2001. We must shut down these vulnerabilities and the Compliance Enforcement Unit is making great strides through the use of SEVIS, and US VISIT by identifying those individuals who may pose national security risks.

The merging of 22 agencies and bureaus into the Department of Homeland Security provides new access to law enforcement databases that will now be used by the BICE Law Enforcement Support Center (LESC) to greatly broaden its enforcement capabilities. For example, the LESC now has access to intelligence information from the former INS, Customs, and the Federal Protective Services databases. This will improve our ability to provide timely information to state and local law enforcement agencies around the nation, as well as to international enforcement agencies.

Coordination between Federal and local law enforcement around the country has expanded significantly since September 11. As additional resources become available, the LESC will become even more critical to law enforcement and national security investigations. In fiscal year 2003, the LESC responded to nearly 600,000 investigative inquiries from federal, state, county and local police agencies in all 50 states. This surpasses the total inquiries handled in 2002 by more than 175,000.

The operational area that has perhaps benefited the most from our restructuring is Detention and Removal Operations. It is now a separate division, bringing a sharper focus to its unique mission, which includes the National Fugitive Operations Program. This program is designed to locate, apprehend, and remove alien absconders. Our Detention and Removal Program is continuing its efforts in promoting public safety and national security by ensuring the departure of those aliens. Officers assigned to Detention and Removal continue to work toward the location, apprehension, and removal of all criminal aliens, absconders of the immigration process, and all other aliens ordered removed from the country.

The BICE Intelligence Division provides a centralized robust intelligence capability to support all of BICE's operational programs as well as other Department components and federal partners. This enhanced intelligence capability has proven critical in the success of BICE investigations and initiatives including ICE Storm, the Victoria, Texas smuggling case, and Operation Predator.

Air and Marine Operations continue to protect the Nation's borders from smuggling and acts of terrorism with an integrated and coordinated Air and Marine interdiction force. Airspace security is still being provided in the National Capital Region and coordination of real time information exchange is at an all time high.

The Federal Protective Service (FPS) is relentlessly securing and identifying potential vulnerabilities of more than 8,800 federal buildings nationwide. As the FPS continues to protect federal buildings, it has integrated its operations with BICE intelligence and investigations in regards to attempted penetration of federal buildings and assisted Detention and Removal Operations in moving detainees at federal facilities.

As mentioned earlier, the inclusion of the FAMS and the Explosive Unit and their mission to promote confidence in our Nation's civil aviation system through the deterrence, detection, and defeat of hostile acts targeting U.S. air carriers, airports, passengers, and crew has served to further mobilize the people and resources of the Department of Homeland Security. FAMS operates as a distinct unit within BICE, enhanced by BICE intelligence and operations data. Moving the FAMS to BICE provides an increased surge capacity during periods of increased threat to the air transportation system; improves the Department's ability to investigate events of interest in the airport environment through better connectivity between FAMS and the federal law enforcement community; and, provides FAMS with broader training and career opportunities.

As we have shown, criminal activities are best attacked by multiple investigations that are interconnected - tracing all the criminal components of the violations and not just a single act. The additional jurisdiction and resources that the combined agencies bring to BICE have enhanced our abilities to investigate national security threats and strengthen the Department of Homeland Security. BICE would not have been able to maintain the continuity of these multiple operations, much less enhance the way in which they are carried out, if it were not for the extraordinary sense of purpose, dedication, and steadfast determination of the men and women who work for the agency. They fully understand that their day-to-day work is critical to the security of this Nation and its economy.

In conclusion, I would again like to commend Congress on its efforts in pursuing the safety and well being of the American people and thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. There is no higher duty of the Government than to defend its Nation. It is an honor to serve with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It is a team of elite and dedicated law-enforcement officers who face the ultimate challenge of protecting and serving our Nation during a time of monumental change. I am confident that with the leadership of the President, guidance from Congress, and the continued cooperation and coordination within the Law Enforcement Community, we will continue to evolve as a premier law enforcement agency within the Department of Homeland Security. The American people deserve nothing less.

It would be my pleasure to answer any questions you may have.