U.S. immigration authorities have arrested hundreds of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally in raids across the country that began last week, although authorities say the enforcement action is not linked to a recent executive order signed by President Donald Trump.
Trump said on Twitter Sunday morning "The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise. Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!"
The raids targeted criminal illegals, Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, told The Washington Post, noting they were part of a “routine” action.
“We’re talking about people who are threats to public safety or a threat to the integrity of the immigration system,” Christensen told the newspaper.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea told the French news agency, "The focus of these operations is no different than the routine, targeted arrests carried out by ICE's Fugitive Operations Teams on a daily basis."
The enforcement actions took place in in at least six states, and included cities such as Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, where more than 160 people were arrested throughout the week.
White House Senior Policy Adviser Stephen Miller told NBC's Meet the Press that the enforcement actions happening all over the country focuses on gang members, drug dealers, and sex offenders.
Senior White House Advisor Stephen Miller waits to go on the air in the White House Briefing Room in Washington, Feb. 12, 2017.
“The order describes a criminal offense, which will typically mean anything from a misdemeanor to a felony … Our emphasis is deporting and removing criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety,” Miller said.
Speaking to reporters Friday night, ICE Enforcement and Removals (ERO) LA Field Office Director David Marin said about 75 percent of those arrested in Los Angeles had felony convictions and had no connection to the Trump order.
“This operation that we conducted is on par with similar operations that were done in the past,” said Marin.
Trump issued an executive order last month to crack down on the estimated 11 million immigrants living in America illegally.
He also made changes to Obama era policies, prioritizing the deportations of those illegal immigrants with criminal histories and allowing immigration agents broader authority to deport those with minor offenses or no offenses at all.
People participate in a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's immigration policy and the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in New York City, Feb. 11, 2017.
The raids have led to numerous protests around the country, including in Austin, Texas, which counts about 100,000 undocumented immigrants among its population; Minneapolis, Minnesota, New York City, Los Angeles and Washington.
More than 100 people protested late Friday in Austin against what they said were intensified ICE operations over the past few weeks.
One of the first deportations under Trump's new order was a mother of two children, both U.S. citizens, who was deported to Mexico early Thursday, her lawyer said.
The deportation showed a change in U.S. policy toward undocumented immigrants.
Ray Ybarra Maldonado said the undocumented woman, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, 36, was taken into custody Wednesday in Phoenix, Arizona, when she stopped in for a routine check at a U.S. immigration office.
Garcia de Rayos had checked in with U.S. immigration authorities every year since 2008, when she was stopped for using a fake Social Security number during a raid on a water park where she worked. In past visits, she answered questions that were put to her and went home.
But when Garcia de Rayos went in for her meeting Wednesday, she was arrested and deportation proceedings were begun. She had lived in the U.S. for more than 22 years.