WASHINGTON -- The Homeland Security Department said Monday that 680 people were arrested in roundups last week targeting immigrants living illegally in the United States. The figure is far below the totals of similar raids conducted under the Obama administration.
The raids have left immigrant communities worried about stepped-up enforcement efforts and the White House taking credit for arrests. But Homeland Security described the roundups as routine.
DHS Secretary John Kelly said Immigration and Customs Enforcement targeted immigrants who are a threat to public safety, including convicted criminals and gang members. He said 75 percent of those arrested were criminals, some of whom had been convicted of homicide and aggravated sexual assault.
ICE officials said 161 people from 13 countries were arrested in the Los Angeles area, all but 10 of whom were convicted criminals. More than 100 people arrested there were from Mexico. In Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina 190 immigrants were arrested, 127 of whom were convicted criminals.
Kelly said arrests were also made by agents working in New York, Atlanta, Chicago and San Antonio.
Advocates say federal agents have already arrested 41 people in the New York City area, at least 5 in Staten Island.
Eyewitness News is told 38 of them have criminal convictions. At the immigration center on Staten Island they are feeling the new chill.
Normally the GED class is packed with students. Monday night, only two people attended because they are fearful of gathering together and be rounded up by federal agents.
"They came here to work. To give back. To raise children. To be good citizens," said Favio Ramirez-Caminatti, El Center del Immigrante.
Senator Chuck Schumer is concerned about who exactly is being taken into custody.
"Look, for people who have committed serious crimes, bank robbery, assault - yes, of course they should be deported," he said. "But for people who have committed no crimes, or their only crime is crossing the border, this is very, very bad."
"I'm scared because if they take me or husband, who's going to take care of my kids?" Maria said.
30-year-old "Maria" as we'll call her tells Eyewitness News she and her husband both work, pay taxes and live together raising two small children, but they live in fear.
"I'm scared all the time," Maria said.
They are part of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in America.
Maria came to the U.S. 10 years ago for a better life, but now she can't even sleep at night because she fears her American dream could any day shatter into a nightmare.
"I like America, I like this life," she said.
Details of who was arrested were not made available, but the arrests and rumors about other raids sparked fear and confusion among immigrants.
Immigration advocates and the White House both suggested the arrests were President Donald Trump's first salvo in what he has promised will be a stepped up campaign to find and deport criminal immigrants and others living in the U.S. illegally.
Trump on Monday bragged that his administration was following through on his campaign pledge and targeting "the bad ones."
"I said at the beginning we are going to get the bad ones, the really bad ones, we are going to get them out," Trump said at a news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
ICE officials and Kelly, however, have said the arrests were part of routine enforcement efforts. Similar roundups under former President Barack Obama yielded far more arrests. In March 2015, ICE said a five-day enforcement effort ended with more than 2,000 arrests.
During the Obama administration, however, ICE agents generally arrested wanted immigration fugitives and convicted criminals. Last week's arrests included immigrants whose only offense was an immigration violation.