For the last few weeks, pro-immigrant activists protested federal immigration raids in the Southland. KPCC's Adolfo Guzman-Lopez reports that today, immigration officials revealed those raids have been part of a two week operation that's turned out to be its biggest to date.
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Assistant Secretary Julie Myers disclosed details of the operation at the federal building in downtown Los Angeles.
Julie Myers: In total, ICE officers took more than 1300 individuals into custody. And they represented more than 32 different countries, including Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, even Ireland and Russia.
Guzman-Lopez: Sixty of the people arrested were from countries other than Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras. Agents made the arrests in L.A., Orange, Ventura, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties. The government's already deported 600 of those arrested, Myers says.
This operation's news to most English speakers. But it's been common knowledge among many Latino immigrants for at least a week.
[Sound of street noise]
Guzman-Lopez: At the corner of Cesar Chavez and Soto in Boyle Heights, Idalia Hernandez waits for a bus. She heard about the raids from Spanish-language news last week. Hernandez was born in the United States. But some of her relatives here are undocumented.
Idalia Hernandez (speaking in Spanish): Uno que es inmigrante no tenia tanto miedo como ahorita.
Guzman-Lopez: She says some relatives are afraid to take their kids to school, or to go to work or shopping.
The immigration agency's Julie Myers says the federal government is not targeting all undocumented immigrants. For the last four years, 75 law enforcement teams across the country have tracked dangerous criminals who are also illegally in the U.S.
Myers: During this operation we located some very dangerous aliens, including aliens with ties to violent street gangs, as well as aliens who had prior convictions for drug trafficking, domestic violence, and sex offenses.
Guzman-Lopez: Agents arrested many people without violent criminal records. One hundred fifty of the undocumented arrestees had no other felony convictions. Agents picked up another 115 for ignoring deportation orders.
Advocates of illegal immigrants say arrests like these divide families and spread fear in immigrant neighborhoods. Myers responded that federal immigration agents will arrest anyone who's not legally in this country.
Officials are increasingly going after undocumented inmates in U.S. jails. Eight hundred of those arrested in this operation were nabbed while in custody for another crime. L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca told KPCC's Patt Morrison his department helped out.
Sheriff Lee Baca: The key to our being a part of it is if they committed a crime, whether it's drunk driving, domestic violence, a robbery, a crime of property, or a crime of violence. Either way, then is when we ask the question: Where were you born?
Guzman-Lopez: The arrests touched a nerve among some Southland residents. Minutes after Baca's comment, a listener named Maribel vented her frustration with suspected felons born in other countries.
Maribel: If you're arrested and you are a criminal and you say, "Yo no naci aqui, yo soy de Mexico, yo soy de Guatemala" – hell, pick them up and take them back. Do your crime over there.
Guzman-Lopez: While immigration reform advocates call for amnesty, the federal government is stepping up enforcement. An immigration fugitive enforcement team formed in Orange County this summer helped arrest 62 people for this operation.