Immigration sweep aims at rounding up criminals

LOS ANGELES — Immigration agents arrested 280 people in California in their biggest push yet to round up suspected illegal immigrants with criminal records in local communities, authorities said Friday.

More than 400 agents and local law enforcement officers fanned out across the state in the three-day search led by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"These are not people who we want walking our streets," ICE director John Morton said. "We're going to focus on those people who choose to pursue a life of crime in the United States rather than pursue the American dream of education, hard work and success."

The operation came four months after Morton said the agency's fugitive operations teams would increasingly focus on finding people with criminal records and would no longer use arrest quotas.

The teams arrested twice as many immigrants with criminal records in the 2009 fiscal year than during the year-earlier period, according to agency statistics.

On Wednesday, agents wearing hooded sweatshirts and jackets emblazoned with "ICE" clustered outside a row of apartment homes in Huntington Park to look for a gang member who was deported to Mexico in 2007 after serving time for vehicle theft.

Agents had learned his wife was here, leading them to believe he had returned to this country illegally.

Slinging rifles across their backs, they approached the front gate. One rapped on a window and said "Police!"

Minutes later, they emerged with a 40-year old man known as "Rascal" in handcuffs and drove him to Los Angeles to be detained.

"As we bring these people into custody, we're also contributing to the reduction of crime in our local communities. That's really the thrust of it all," said Robert Naranjo, an assistant field office director for ICE's detention and removal operations in Los Angeles.

The man declined to be interviewed. ICE would not release his name because he did not face new criminal charges as of Friday but expected he would be charged next week with illegally re-entering the country, said agency spokeswoman Virginia Kice.

More than 80 percent of the people arrested this week had prior convictions for serious or violent crimes, according to ICE.