Immigration officials arrested 331 undocumented migrants in a month-long sweep that ensnared people who had ignored deportation orders, who had criminal convictions and who had re-entered the country after being expelled, among others.
The operation, which began May 9 and ended on Monday, was carried out in six Midwestern states: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Kansas and Missouri.
“Our dedicated officers strive to make our communities safer by arresting convicted criminal aliens and removing them from the United States," Ricardo Wong, field officer director for the division of Enforcement and Removal Operations at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said in a statement. “By focusing our resources on the most egregious offenders, we ensure the very best use of our resources while immediately improving public safety.”
The statement said that those who had outstanding orders of deportation, or who re-entered the United States illegally after having been deported, face immediate deportation. Others are to stay in ICE custody pending a hearing in immigration court or pending the gathering of documents needed to travel back to their homelands.
Immigration officials say the operation is part of the Homeland Security Department’s priorities, which including tracking down, detaining and deporting people who are a threat to safety in U.S. communities or are national security threats.
They highlighted certain people who were picked up in the sweep, such as a Mexican immigrant arrested in Wisconsin who had convictions for vandalism, a hit-and-run and domestic violence.
Another man, also a Mexican national arrested in Wisconsin, had convictions for sexual assault, domestic violence and theft.
In Kansas, one of those arrested was a Mexican man who convictions for battery and aggravated assault.
In Indiana, people arrested included a Honduran man with a conviction for sex offense against a child and an outstanding order of deportation. A 29-year-old Mexican national was arrested in the state with a prior conviction for drugs and an outstanding order of deportation.
Advocates of more lenient immigration policies criticized the sweep, saying that ICE casts too wide a net in its characterization of people as criminals who pose a danger.
The arrested people included those with immigration violations as well as people who re-entered after being deported. Many advocates believe such people should not be priorities in aggressive enforcement actions.
“ICE's enforcement if past proclamations about focusing resources on dangerous criminals … has always been wildly misleading,” Bryan Johnson, an immigration lawyer based in New York, told Fox News Latino.
He added that some enforcement programs, such as Secure Communities, “allowed ICE to rack up nice-looking stats by giving them a wide net that indiscriminately swept up anyone that had contact with law enforcement, whether for a minor conviction or just an arrest without a conviction.”
Many advocates say the immigration system needs to be overhauled to give some of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States a way to legalize their status.
Proponents of strict immigration enforcement want the Obama administration to do more to crack down on people who live and come here illegally.
They say the administration has not been strict enough, and that its weakness encourages more illegal immigration.