WASHINGTON (AP) - After months of complaints from immigrant advocates, the Obama administration promised in August that immigration authorities would start focusing their scarce resources on finding and deporting serious criminals, and largely leave alone immigrants whose only offense was crossing the border illegally.
To prove the point, more than 1,900 Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials spent the last week arresting nearly 3,000 criminal illegal immigrants in a nationwide sweep.
Everyone arrested had at least one criminal conviction and more than half were convicted of at least one felony, including attempted murder, rape and kidnapping. They will now face deportation.
ICE Director John Morton said Wednesday the roundup was the largest ICE effort to hunt down criminal illegal immigrants.
"This is what we should be doing; this is good law enforcement," Morton said. "It makes sense to be removing people who are committing crimes who are here illegally first and foremost."
There are still an estimated 1 million criminal illegal immigrants in the country, Morton said.
ICE has been widely criticized in recent months for using fingerprints collected in local jails to identify illegal immigrants. Many of the people identified through the Secure Communities program have not been convicted of a crime, only charged, and have been arrested for traffic violations or other misdemeanors.
In an Aug. 18 letter to a group of senators who have pushed for immigration reform, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said officials from DHS and the Justice Department would review approximately 300,000 deportation cases pending in federal immigration court.
At the time, officials said most non-criminals and those who do not pose a threat to public safety or national security would likely have their cases put on hold indefinitely. Those people would be allowed to stay in the country and apply for a work permit.