Hong Kong authorities have stepped up efforts to deport migrants who have defied a government order to return to mainland China. Early Wednesday, Hong Kong police began raiding the homes of many migrants. It is the most forceful attempt yet to remove the residency seekers since a March 31 deadline to leave Hong Kong passed.

Jackie Hong is a spokeswoman for the Catholic diocese in Hong Kong, which has provided counseling and other help for the migrants.

"This is the first time that we know that the police will go into the house directly to arrest the overstayers without receiving any complaints from the Hong Kong citizens," she said.

The migrants are the offspring of mainland Chinese who gained permanent residency in Hong Kong years ago. The migrants, however, were never given permission to join their families here, and came illegally. In January, they lost a five-year legal battle to stay, and now face immediate deportation.

More than 4,000 mainland migrants in Hong Kong are ignoring the order to leave. So far, only about 100 have been arrested in random identity card checks by police. Authorities have shown less tolerance toward the migrants in recent weeks, after they staged an escalating series of demonstrations.

Peter Barns is a lawyer representing mainland migrants. He says the government ignores calls by aid organizations and the United Nations to allow the migrants to remain with their families.

"These people are being portrayed as blights on the community and that's the tragedy of the situation, because the court of Final Appeal recognized that they had and continued to have a legitimate expectation of being treated as somebody who has the right to remain in Hong Kong," he said.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a policy that gives the territory a high degree of autonomy and strict border controls. About 150 mainland residents are allowed to enter Hong Kong each day. But record unemployment and a growing government deficit have led many officials to argue that Hong Kong's welfare systems can not sustain the flow of mainland migrants.