Federal agents arrested almost 300 people in California Thursday, as part of a new focus on targeting illegal immigrants with criminal records. Most of those arrested had been convicted of serious or violent crimes, officials said.
The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) appears to have a new enforcement priority: undocumented foreign nationals with criminal records. In what is reportedly the largest such operation ever, the ICE arrested 286 immigrants with criminal records in a three-day sweep in California that ended Thursday night.
More sweeps seem likely in border states, as part of an increased focus by the Department of Homeland Security on targeting undocumented immigrants with serious criminal records.
“This is not so much a shift in tactics but an increased emphasis on the elimination of criminal aliens, making it clear on both sides of the border that that is our highest priority,” said John Morton, Homeland Security assistant secretary who oversees ICE, in a phone interview.
“This is going to be our central focus for years to come,” Mr. Morton said, adding that the sweep was aimed at “sending the clear signal that if you come here, you need to play by the rules or we will find you and capture you and send you home.”
Eighty percent of those arrested in California had prior convictions for serious or violent crimes such as armed robbery, assault with a deadly weapon, and rape, said the ICE. Those arrested included people from Mexico, Denmark, Taiwan and Tonga.
The special operation involved more than 400 agents and officers from ICE, the US Marshals Service, and state and local agencies.
Morton said that there would be more sweeps in other states to show that the US is serious about identifying and removing criminal offenders. "In a world of limited resources, we have to make good judgments about the priorities we bring to bear.…" he said earlier Thursday while talking about enforcement of immigration laws. The Obama administration has generally eschewed the factory raids of previous years.