For the first time ever, the Department of Homeland Security has run a special operation here in West Michigan to round up illegal immigrants and deport them.
It's called "Operation Return to Sender," and targets individuals who have already been ordered to leave by a judge, never did, and are now fugitives.
WZZM13 was the only media outlet to go along with authorities on their raid Tuesday night. (see video)
At a briefing inside a Grand Rapids hotel lobby before the operation started, Robin Baker, the Director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office in Detroit, said, "We're really out to make a show of force, they have no right to be here and we're executing the judge's order."
After the briefing the team used investigative techniques to track down leads, get addresses, and then talk their way inside houses where they believed illegal immigrants were staying.
Because deportation is an administrative process, the fugitive operations teams cannot kick in doors. But, they are armed federal agents with all the normal powers of enforcement and arrest.
The unit started out their 5 day operation targeting 80 fugitives from 15 different countries.
"A lot of people have gone through a lot to get here and spent great sums of money, so they're not going home willingly," Supervisory Deportation officer Andrew Lynch said while waiting for his next case to come across the radio.
"When you get in there and it's family, what you get is half to a quarter of the truth," Deportation Officer Greg Adducci said.
The police don't always tell the truth either. For instance when they arrived at a house in Holland where they were looking for a fugitive, they said they were investigating fraud.
Their target was not inside, but they did find a relative they say was already deported in 1998, and should not be in the country.
"That's the bottom line, he's coming with us," one of the officers told the family while checking over their documentation.
It goes back and forth all night between finding illegal aliens and coming up empty handed at a dead address or empty home.
In one instance 3 members of an El Salvadorian family living in a Habitat for Humanity house in Holland are found at home. All are fugitves. The agents don't usually take children, and do not want to take the mother, leaving the kids alone. So they arrest the father and transport him to jail, where he will sit for several weeks until being flown back to El Salvador.
Just one more of the millions that will come and go as America tries to execute the laws of the land.
The fugitve unit spent 5 days here in West Michigan and they apprehended 41 people. Some of those were also criminals with serious convictions.