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Immigration agents arrest nearly 300 foreigners with criminal records during three-day sweep

December 11, 2009 | 10:40 am

Immigration agents arrested more than 286 foreigners with criminal records during a three-day sweep in California, officials announced today.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement head John Morton said the operation was the largest of its kind and resulted in the arrests of illegal immigrants convicted of robbery, assault and rape.

About 96 of the arrests took place in Los Angeles County and included people from Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Among those arrested in the county were a suspected gang member from El Salvador who had a 2004 robbery conviction and a Guatemalan man with a 1993 conviction for lewd acts with a child under 14.

"These are not the kind of people we want walking our streets," Morton said.

The arrests were conducted as part of a controversial program designed to arrest and deport immigrants who have criminal records, who have ignored deportation orders or who have been deported and illegally reentered the United States. About 400 officers and agents took part in the operation, which ended late Thursday night.

Critics have said the program, which started in 2003 and has rapidly expanded since then, has created fear in immigrant communities by sending armed agents into neighborhoods and pulling parents away from their children.

In addition, immigration agents often arrested people without criminal records to fill quotas, according to a report by the Migration Policy Institute earlier this year.

During a visit to Los Angeles over the summer, Morton announced that he would end the quotas.

More than 35,000 people were arrested nationwide by fugitive operations teams in fiscal year 2009, according to ICE. Of those, nearly 89% either had criminal records or outstanding deportation orders.

In Los Angeles, there were 3,039 arrests, including 1,466 criminals. Of those arrested, 247 – or 8% -- did not have criminal records or outstanding deportation orders.

Many of those arrested this week had previously been deported, officials said, and at least 17 will face further federal prosecution.

For example, Ulises Vazuiz Arucha, 37, was convicted of first-degree robbery in 2004 and deported to El Salvador in 2007. The suspected gang member was arrested in Reseda on Dec. 8.

-- Anna Gorman