Houston - US immigration officers arrested more than 2,100 illegal immigrants, inclusing Ghanaians, alleged gang members and fugitives, in a nationwide sweep, the Department of Homeland Security said Thursday.
Roughly 2,179 people were arrested in the operation, which began May 26 and ended Wednesday, the department said in a news release. The department said the fugitives captured in the operation threatened public safety in hundreds of neighbourhoods and communities across the country.
About half the people arrested had criminal records for violent crimes. In addition, roughly 367 of the people arrested were members or associates of violent street gangs. More than 600 were fugitives who had been ordered to leave the country but failed to do so.
Immigration officers arrested the majority of the individuals on administrative immigration violations and placed them into deportation proceedings. About 829 of them already have been sent back to their home countries.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in the release that the operation was part of a 'new and tough' enforcement strategy that includes worksite enforcement and a crackdown on the criminal infrastructure that perpetuates illegal immigration.
The fugitives arrested in the operation came from dozens of countries, including Angola, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cape Verde, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Egypt, Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Iraq, Italy, Ivory Coast, Jamaica, Kenya, Liberia, Libya, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Senegal, Thailand, Uganda, United Kingdom and Uzbekistan. More than 720 arrests were made in California.
The sweep took place in the midst of a debate in the US Congress on an immigration bill that has stirred calls from conservatives for stricter immigration enforcement.
Tim Counts, a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman, was quoted by the Chicago Tribune as saying the emphasis on enforcement has been a focus since before the debate on immigration heated up.