Twenty-four day laborers in the country illegally were arrested Tuesday when they asked for work from federal immigration agents who had gathered in a parking lot after an unsuccessful undercover operation, authorities said.

The agents had regrouped at a 7-Eleven parking lot after an a search for illegal immigrants who had been ordered to leave the country, said Marc Raimondi, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency spokesman.

The day laborers admitted they were in the country illegally after they asked the ICE agents whether they needed workers and the agents responded by asking them, in Spanish, where they were from, Raimondi said.

"Today's operation was not planned, but nevertheless, when we encounter immigration status violators, our mandate is to enforce the law," he said.

Among those arrested were six who had criminal records in the United States; eight who had been deported or ushered to the border to leave the country voluntarily, only to return; and one who had been caught six times trying to enter the country from Mexico, according to ICE.

Ten of those arrested were from Honduras; eight were from Mexico; five were from El Salvador; and one was from Peru.

Hispanic advocates condemned the arrests, accusing ICE of targeting only day laborers who appeared to be of Latino descent. CASA of Maryland said it interviewed non-Hispanic day laborers who told the organization the ICE agents ignored them.

"They focused on people who look like me," said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA. "We believe that is unacceptable. It is discrimination."

ICE agents acted in accordance with federal immigration laws, Raimondi said.