SANTA ANA, Calif. — U.S. authorities are vowing to track down illegal immigrants at home and at work after only eight people volunteered for a self-deportation program.
The nearly three-week trial program for illegal immigrants who have ignored court orders to leave the country ended Friday in five cities.
"Quite frankly, I think this proves the only method that works is enforcement," said James Hayes, acting director of detention and removal operations for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Hayes said the agency would arrest more so-called immigrant "fugitives" this year than last — and still more next year as more agents are assigned.
The ICE program had targeted about 30,000 illegal immigrants in five cities: Santa Ana, Calif., San Diego, Phoenix, Charlotte, N.C., and Chicago.
"We are not considering at this time expanding or extending the program," Hayes said. "We believed we learned a lot."
The effort — dubbed Operation Scheduled Departure — targeted what the government calls "fugitive noncriminal aliens," illegal immigrants who have been given final deportation orders and do not have a criminal record. ICE said there are 457,000 nationwide.
The program was advertised on radio, TV and print as a more humane alternative that would have given illegal immigrants 90 days to take care of their family and personal affairs without being detained before deportation.
Jorge Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, said the program was a "publicity stunt" that will be remembered as a "hypocritical show of concern for unauthorized immigrants."
Hayes disputed that.
"This was an opportunity for a more convenient alternative for those individuals who are subject to final orders of removal," he said. "We think that not being detained while we're preparing to remove you from the United States was a significant incentive."
Information from the Associated Press and Cox News Service was used in this report.