Immigration raids net 2,900 criminals in largest national crackdown
The arrests, during the last seven days, came a month after the Obama administration announced that immigration officials would concentrate on finding and deporting serious criminals and delay deportation proceedings against non-criminals who do not pose a public safety threat.
Wednesday's announcement came on the day that President Obama told Latinos during a roundtable at the White House that he was still committed to comprehensive immigration reform, which he said had been prevented by Republican intransigence.
"We're a nation of laws, but we're also a nation of immigrants," Obama said at the forum for viewers of Yahoo! en Espanol, MSN Latino, AOL Latino and Huffington Post Latino Voices.
The latest arrests involved more than 1,900 agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement working with state and local officers across the country over the last week, part of an operation called "Cross Check." Officials said 2,901 illegal immigrants were arrested and all had at least one criminal conviction.
Of that group, at least 1,282 had been convicted of multiple charges and more than 1,600 had felony convictions including manslaughter, attempted murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, drug trafficking, child abuse, sexual crimes against minors, and aggravated assault, ICE said in a prepared statement. Forty-two were identified as gang members, the agency said.
In addition, 681 of those arrested were immigration fugitives who had previously been ordered to leave the country but failed to go. Additionally, 386 were illegal re-entrants who had been previously removed from the country multiple times.
Cases involving a least 146 of those arrested during the sweep were turned over to various U.S. attorneys for prosecution on a variety of charges including illegal re-entry after deportation, a felony which carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, the agency stated.
Suspects were arrested in all 50 states and four U.S. territories, according to the statement.
"This is what we should be doing; this is good law enforcement," ICE director John Morton told a news conference. "It makes sense to be removing people who are committing crimes who are here illegally, first and foremost."
The Obama administration has been wrestling with immigration issues. On Wednesday, Obama again defended his administration's actions in tightening border security while increasing deportations.
In August, the Obama administration announced that it will review about 300,000 pending deportation cases to separate out non-criminals who do not pose a threat. Those individuals would be allowed to stay in the United States and apply for work permits. The government has also stepped up its efforts to deport those who have committed serious crimes.
Latinos represent a key voting bloc as the nation moves more deeply into the 2012 presidential election. While Obama and other Democrats have been the chief beneficiaries of Latino support, recent polls show that the backing has been softening.
Meanwhile, Republicans have also had their problems with immigration issues. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has been attacked by fellow conservatives for his support of a 2001 Texas law that allows undocumented immigrant children to pay in-state tuition rates at state universities if they meet some criteria. He has also argued that a physical fence at the border with Mexico wouldn't work.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is running second to Perry in most national polls, backs a fence and opposes in-state tuition rates.
Photo: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials announce the results of the latest raids. Credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta /Associated Press