Atlanta

From arrest to deportation, we get up-close look at the work ICE agents do every day

ATLANTA — The murder of Athens nursing student Laken Riley has led to a rigorous debate about undocumented immigrants who commit crimes in the U.S.

Some are pushing for stiff penalties and more deportations while others are asking for updated border policies.

Channel 2′s Courtney Francisco got unfiltered access and rode along with immigration agents as they took an undocumented immigrant into custody and looked into the process and challenges ICE agents face every day as politicians in Washington decide what to do with people who are in our country illegally.

Francisco met up with ICE agents at an Ellenwood gas station, where immigration and customs enforcement officers met undercover.

Just before daylight, they got a call for a man who had been arrested for battering his wife recently.

“He was able to bond out prior to us placing a detainer on him,” ICE assistant field office director Veronica Suriel said.

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As the undercover agents gathered, others staked out the home of Ulises Barrita Rios.

The team received a phone call warning them that Rios was on the move.

“We have to go,” Suriel yelled to every as she jumped into the car.

Barrita Rios has left his house for work earlier than usual -- before 6 a.m.

The plan to arrest Barrita Rios at his home pivoted to a traffic stop and agents pulled him over.

In a matter of minutes, ICE agents had Barrita Rios handcuffed and explained that he was under arrest for violating U.S. immigration laws.

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As they put him in the back of an unmarked truck, he saw our cameras and said he wanted to talk to me.

He told Francisco that he has a wife and two kids, he’s 28 years old, and he grew up in Oaxaca, Mexico.

ICE records confirm he immigrated here with an agriculture work visa in 2017 but overstayed. Police also arrested him that year.

Cherokee County records show he was convicted of assaulting his work supervisor.

ICE deported him in 2018.

Barrita Rios told Francisco that he and his family ran into Texas past border patrol two years ago and he’s been living and working in metro Atlanta until now.

ICE said agents caught on to his illegal re-entry in February, when he showed up in the Clayton County Jail, accused of assaulting his wife while his child was watching.

“He’s very aware of the consequences of coming back to the United States without permission,” Suriel told Francisco.

Once leaving the traffic stop, Agents took Rios to a short-term detention facility in Atlanta for booking. It’s in the basement of ICE headquarters.

Once there, agents took his fingerprints and his mug shot. Processing his information in the computer took about two hours.

Then, agents allowed him one phone call. Barrita Rios told Francisco that he called his wife, whom he’s accused of assaulting.

A team was scheduled to drive him to Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin around 5 p.m.

The process of locating a repeat offender who’s coming back to the U.S. after deportation is something some say ICE is not doing enough of

Francisco asked agents about that revolving door.

“It is a bit frustrating, I think, for all law enforcement to see that continue happening, but that will be up to our politicians to fix the immigration system,” Suriel said.

But Atlanta immigration attorney Charles Kuck said most immigrants are not violent, they follow the law.

He points to video Channel 2 Action News shot of lines of people wrapping around ICE headquarters filled with those following the law to get proper documents.

“It’s actually a fascinating correlation. The only state that tracks arrestees by country of birth is Texas and now Georgia. That’s a new Georgia law in effect July 1,” Kuck said. “There’s all these stats from Texas that routinely show immigrants commit less crime. They commit less violent crime, arrested less frequently than native-born U.S. citizens.”

He said right now, the Biden administration is focused on arresting felons who returned after deportation, like Barrita Rios.

“Do you think you’ll come back?” Francisco asked Barrita Rios.

Barrita Rios said he didn’t know.

The next step in the deportation process is up in the air for Barrita Rios.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office could prosecute him for returning after deportation, punishable by up to five years in federal prison

He could go back to Clayton County to face prosecution for domestic violence, or attorneys could agree to deport him again.

In that case, he’d fly to Louisiana or come back to Atlanta for a flight to Mexico.

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