Officials arrest, deport illegals who broke law
The immigration chief put all illegal-immigrant lawbreakers on notice.
SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) -- A sleepy-eyed man with a hooded sweat shirt and a plastic lunch pail scurried back into his apartment complex at the sight of a dozen immigration agents outside. He had no reason to worry: They were after his neighbor.
Three officers crept toward the building, and one banged on the door of Apt. A. After a tense minute in the darkness before dawn, the door cracked open and they had their first arrest -- a 29-year-old immigrant with a driving-under-the-influence conviction.
It was a scene repeated across Southern California over the past week in what officials said was one of the biggest sweeps in U.S. history of illegal immigrants who have criminal records or have ignored deportation orders.
By Tuesday, when federal officials announced the results of the sweep, 761 illegal immigrants have been taken into custody: 338 at their homes in five Los Angeles-area counties, and 423 at county jails, said Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The Associated Press rode along on the first day of the secret sweeps, which began Jan. 17. Those arrested came from 14 countries, among them Mexico, Honduras, Ukraine, India, Japan, Poland and Trinidad. Of those arrested, more than 450 had already been deported by Tuesday, Kice said.
The raids were a major push within Operation Return to Sender, part of a crackdown that has resulted in 13,192 arrests nationwide since late May. Immigration officials have also identified 3,000 inmates in state and local jails who will be deported once they serve their sentences.
Officials estimate 600,000 illegal immigrants who have ignored federal deportation orders are still at large.
"Foreign nationals who flout our laws and commit crimes against our citizens should be on notice that there are consequences," said ICE chief Julie L. Myers. "ICE will use all of the tools at its disposal to find you and send you home."
For agents in Orange County, that meant gathering at 4 a.m. in a chilly parking lot for a pep talk before fanning out at houses in Santa Ana and Anaheim on the sweep's first day.
After their success at Apt. A, the agents sped off to the suspected address of a convicted rapist.
Three officers pounded on the door of a two-story, stucco house in a working-class neighborhood. Another pointed his flashlight at a woman wrapped in a blue bathrobe peering through an open downstairs window.
"Open the door, please. We're with the immigration police and we have to talk," he said in Spanish.
Soon the woman was sitting at the kitchen table as officers with flashlights herded seven men into the living room. Because none had identification, the officers could not identify their target.
Jim Hayes, director of the Los Angeles field office of ICE, decided to book them all. "We're going to make sure they're not wanted for any more serious crimes," he said.
Six of the men were frisked, then taken in handcuffs to a van. The seventh man was a legal immigrant who owns the house; he told officers he didn't know any of the men -- he just rented to them.
By that point it was 6 a.m., and the chances of surprising suspects were waning with the light. Hayes decided to take the van, loaded with the seven men, back to a processing center in downtown Santa Ana.
There, two dozen men and one woman brought in from other raids sat on wooden benches, clutching paper bags filled with their belongings. Officers wound through the room interviewing them, taking their fingerprints and mug shots and helping them fill out forms.
Adan Garcia, a 29-year-old dishwasher with a wife and two young boys in Honduras, said he won't be back in the United States -- at least not illegally.
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