LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Federal immigration authorities confirmed Friday they arrested about 160 foreign nationals in a series of Southland raids carried out over the past week targeting "criminal aliens" and others in the country illegally, but activists and some elected officials criticized the actions and offered support to affected immigrants.
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the raids were carried out in six Southern California counties beginning Monday and ending around noon Friday. The operations targeted "at-large criminal aliens, illegal re-entrants and immigration fugitives."
ICE officials said about 150 of the people arrested had criminal histories, while five others had "final orders of removal or had been previously deported." They noted that many of those arrested had prior felony convictions for violent offenses including sex crimes, weapons charges and assault, and some will be referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office for possible prosecution for re-entering the country illegally.
Details were not provided on the remaining people arrested, but ICE noted that during some raids, officers "frequently encounter additional suspects who may be in the United States in violation of the federal immigration laws. Those persons will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and, when appropriate, arrested by ICE."
The raids prompted an outcry that began Thursday afternoon from local immigrant-rights activists, who suggested the actions were a result of a stepped-up enforcement effort under the Donald Trump presidential administration, which has vowed to crack down on illegal immigrations and people living in the United States without authorization.
Officials with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles created a toll-free hotline -- (888) 624-4752 -- for affected immigrants to call for assistance and obtain access to attorneys. The group also began offering hourly training sessions to inform illegal immigrants about their legal rights.
One woman, Marlene Mosqueda, told reporters Friday morning her father was taken away Thursday by authorities who weren't wearing clothing identifying them as ICE officers, and he was deported.
"They took my parents away," she said. "They took my family away."
ICE officials insisted, however, that while the raids represented an enforcement "surge," they were "no different than the routing, targeted arrests carried out by ICE's Fugitive Operations Teams on a daily basis."
"The rash of recent reports about purported ICE checkpoints and random sweeps are false, dangerous and irresponsible," according to ICE. "These reports create panic and put communities and law enforcement personnel in unnecessary danger. Individuals who falsely report such activities are doing a disservice to those they claim to support."
But some elected officials criticized the immigration actions.
"President Trump has already ignited widespread fear and confusion in our immigrant communities with his executive order and divisive campaign rhetoric," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. "If the reports are accurate, these raids only add to the anxiety about what's to come from this administration."
Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Los Angeles, said she was "outraged" at news of the recent raids and suggested that some people who were targeted had no violent or criminal history.
"I am working with my constituents and the immigrant community to ensure they know their rights," she said. "As this process moves forward, I will also ensure my constituents know what the next steps are, where applicable."
ICE officials said the five-day operation included:
-- the Huntington Park arrest of a Salvadoran national gang member wanted in his home country for aggravated extortion;
-- the Los Angeles arrest of a Brazilian national wanted in Brazil for cocaine trafficking; and
-- the West Hollywood arrest of an Australian national previously convicted of lewd acts with a child.