WASHINGTON - A series of immigration raids across the United States last week rounded up more than 680 people for expulsion, most of them criminals, officials said Monday.
The raids, which stirred worries in immigrant communities about a tough crackdown by the new administration of President Donald Trump, took place in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, San Antonio and New York.
While the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) said the raids were part of "routine" operations against illegal and criminal immigrants, Trump said he was following up on his presidential campaign promise to send millions of migrants, mostly from Central America, back to their countries.
"The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise," he tweeted on Sunday. "Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!"
John Kelly, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), said in a statement Monday that the raids were aimed at rounding up and removing criminals.
"These operations targeted public safety threats, such as convicted criminal aliens and gang members, as well as individuals who have violated our nation's immigration laws," he said.
About three-quarters of those arrested were criminal aliens convicted in connection to a range of crimes including drugs, weapons and sexual assault violations, he said.
"ICE conducts these kind of targeted enforcement operations regularly and has for many years," Kelly said.
The number of arrests was not out of line with recent ICE actions under the previous Barack Obama administration.
In fiscal year 2016 (ended September 30), ICE arrested 114,434 illegal immigrants, according to official data.
The agency expelled a total of 240,255 people during the year, roughly the same level as in fiscal 2015. Three-quarters had been nabbed shortly after they crossed the border into the country. Most of the rest were people arrested inside the country with existing criminal convictions; some 2,000 of them were gang members.
Around 62 percent of those expelled were from Mexico, 14 percent from Guatemala, nine percent from Honduras and nine percent from El Salvador.
During the presidential race, Trump pledged to begin expelling many of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.
Many of them are long-settled, with families, homes, regular jobs and children born here.
Kelly said the focus of the current effort is dangerous criminals, but that it also includes anyone who has broken immigration laws.
"President Trump has been clear in affirming the critical mission of DHS in protecting the nation and directed our Department to focus on removing illegal aliens who have violated our immigration laws, with a specific focus on those who pose a threat to public safety, have been charged with criminal offenses, have committed immigration violations or have been deported and re-entered the country illegally," he said. —Agence France-Presse