WASHINGTON • The United States authorities arrested hundreds of undocumented migrants last week in the first large-scale raids under President Donald Trump, triggering panic among immigrant communities nationwide.
The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency rounded up undocumented individuals living in Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and other cities two weeks after Mr Trump signed an executive order that broadened which undocumented immigrants would be targeted for deportation.
According to the ICE, however, the operations were "routine".
"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," said agency spokesman Jennifer Elzea.
Mr David Marin, head of the ICE's removal operations in Los Angeles, told reporters that approximately 161 people were arrested in the California metropolis.
Some 75 per cent of them had prior felony convictions, he said, adding that some people were nabbed solely because they were undocumented.
In a Jan 25 decree, Mr Trump prioritised the deportation of undocumented males who had been convicted of or "charged with any criminal offence", including misdemeanours.
With his decree, Mr Trump - who vowed as a candidate to deport some three million undocumented immigrants with criminal records - broadens the scope of the Obama administration's policy, dropping the distinction between convicted criminals and those who have simply been charged.
Mr Marin called the five-day operation an "enforcement surge" but said they were planned prior to Mr Trump's swearing-in. He rebuffed reports about ICE checkpoints and random sweeps, calling them "dangerous and irresponsible".
The agency did not release the total number of detainees. The Atlanta office, which covers three states, arrested 200 people, said Mr Bryan Cox, a spokesman for the office.
The raids, which hit residential areas and workplaces, sparked protests and provoked the ire of elected Democratic representatives, notably in California and Los Angeles, where many undocumented migrants reside.
Mr Joaquin Castro, a Democratic congressman from Texas, confirmed the operation aimed at arresting the undocumented. He said he has asked ICE officials to "clarify whether these individuals are in fact dangerous, violent threats to our communities, and not people who are here peacefully raising families and contributing to our state".
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS