The Statue of Liberty is emblazoned with the words, “”Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of you teaming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”  And they did.  We are a country of immigrants.  However, when the French gave us the statue, they couldn’t have anticipated people sneaking into the country, or overstaying their visas, or committing crimes while visiting.

We’re used to our area being a melting-pot, though the vast majority of those who’ve settled in this area are either legal citizens of the country or legal visitors.  In the last few decades, though, some areas of Northern Virginia have become known as havens for illegal immigrants.

What we haven’t seen in this area, is a lot of federal attention to the problem, but perhaps that is changing.  In a three-day sweep by federal and local law enforcement agencies in Northern Virginia this week, 130 immigrants with prior convictions were taken into custody.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton called it an “enforcement surge,” but a more appropriate title might be, “Operation It’s About Time.”  163 arrests were made, including 60 in Fairfax County, 37 in Prince William County, 20 in Loudoun County, 13 in Alexandria city and 11 in Arlington County.  Additional arrests were made in other localities.

According to Morton, some of the crimes involved rape, assault, burglary and drug possession.  The detainees had served their sentences and been released before immigration officials were able to check and detain illegal immigrants.  Why would the legal system release people without knowing their immigration status?

Half of those arrested were in the country legally, while the other half were not. But regardless of legal status, work permits or “green cards,” don’t prevent someone from being deported if they commit a crime.  We have enough “home grown” criminals; we shouldn’t have to import them.  Morton went on to say that, “If you’re committing crimes here in our country and you’re here unlawfully, it’s time for you to go home.”  If you’re here as a guest and you commit a crime, it’s time you hit the road.

In Arlington, a 39-year-old legal resident from Ecuador with convictions for assault and battery, grand larceny and statutory rape was arrested.  A 39-year-old British man in Madison, Va., also here legally, was picked up Monday after ICE found he had a conviction for aggravated sexual battery of a child.  How do such things slip through the cracks?  It doesn’t give you much a sense of security.

“The criminals who were arrested the last three days,” Morton said, “are not the kind of people we want walking the streets of the commonwealth.”  Really?  How long did it take the Feds to come to that conclusion?  And do we want them walking the streets of the District or Maryland?  Come on, behave or go home.  Period.  And if you shouldn’t be here in the first place, the answer is obvious.

Morton said he had issued a new policy at ICE that makes drunk drivers a higher priority when officials assess whom to deport. “We’re paying a lot of attention to DUIs.”  My niece was killed 8 years ago by a drunk illegal alien.  Why wasn’t it a priority then?  Is there some threshold of dead Americans we have to reach before the federal government decides to enforce our laws?

I pay Mr. Morton’s salary.  So do you; along with the thousands of other employees of ICE.  They can throw out all the statistics about unprecedented numbers of deportations, but the fact remains: new laws weren’t put on the books, the Feds just decided it was time to do their job.  Is it because of all the noise generated in Arizona this past year?  Whatever the reason, it is fair to herald their efforts and to encourage them to press on as hard as possible.  Our local officials have their hands full with crime.  Gang violence has grown in this area every year and they shouldn’t and cannot carry the load for the federal immigration enforcement agencies.