The arrests came during a nationwide operation called "Operation No Safe Haven Plus" that concluded on Dec. 17. According to ICE, the operation included three additional collateral arrests of people who had final orders of removal, making the total number of those arrested 21.
The 18 foreign nationals who were arrested all have outstanding removal orders and are to be repatriated to their countries of origin. Eleven are known or suspected human rights violators, and seven are affiliated with human smuggling or trafficking, the agency announced. Meanwhile, nine of the 18 had convictions for crimes that included human smuggling, human trafficking, negligent manslaughter, and weapons offenses.
“These arrests are a critical piece of our ongoing mission to ensure that those who violate human rights abroad or engage in human smuggling and trafficking cannot abuse the immigration system to find safe haven here in the United States,” Tony H. Pham, the acting ICE director, said in a statement.
“We are committed to investigating and bringing these criminals to justice," he added. "We want those who have fled their countries in search of safety in the U.S. to know that they won’t come face to face with their persecutors here nor will we tolerate the smuggling, trafficking, or servitude of others."
The agency didn't release specifically the names of the individuals arrested. However, it noted that of the 18 foreign nationals, seven were from Central and South America and have been implicated in "numerous" human rights violations, which include "arbitrary detentions, referrals of prisoners to intelligence units involved in persecutory abuses, and direct interrogations involving the mistreatment of civilians."
Three of the 18 were from Africa, and implicated in "ethnic cleansing, abductions, and sexual exploitation of women and children," ICE announced.
Seven of the 18 were people who were arrested for smuggling or trafficking violations. This included state charges involving "the solicitation to commit smuggling, smuggling of human beings for profit or commercial purpose, and trafficking a person for sexual servitude," ICE announced.
The agency has conducted five successful No Safe Haven operations since 2014.
ICE has, since 2003, been responsible for the arrest of more than 460 people for human rights-related violations. During the same time, ICE obtained deportation orders against and physically removed from the United States 1,064 people who were known or suspected human rights violators. ICE has also overseen the departure of 72 more such people from the country.
ICE's Human Rights Violators and War Crimes Unit continues to investigate and remove known or suspected human rights violators who evade justice by seeking shelter in the United States.
Such people include those who are known or suspected to have "participated in persecution, war crimes, genocide, torture, extrajudicial killings, severe violations of religious freedom, female genital mutilation/cutting, and the use or recruitment of child soldiers," according to the agency.
"These individuals may use fraudulent identities or falsified documents to enter the country in an attempt to blend into communities in the United States," according to ICE.
The agency is currently pursuing more than 155 active investigations into suspected human rights violators in the country. It is also pursuing more than 1,675 leads and removals cases that involved suspected human rights violators from 95 different countries.