Hundreds of immigrants arrested in 'routine' U.S. enforcement surge

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(Reuters) - U.S. federal immigration agents arrested hundreds of undocumented immigrants in at least four states this week in what officials on Friday called routine enforcement actions.

Reports of immigration sweeps this week sparked concern among immigration advocates and families, coming on the heels of President Donald Trump's executive order barring refugees and immigrants from seven majority-Muslim nations. That order is currently on hold.

"The fear coursing through immigrant homes and the native-born Americans who love immigrants as friends and family is palpable," Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said in a statement. "Reports of raids in immigrant communities are a grave concern."

The enforcement actions took place in Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and surrounding areas, said David Marin, director of enforcement and removal for the Los Angeles field office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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Only five of 161 people arrested in Southern California would not have been enforcement priorities under the Obama administration, he said.

The agency did not release a total number of detainees. The Atlanta office, which covers three states, arrested 200 people, Bryan Cox, a spokesman for the office, said. The 161 arrests in the Los Angeles area were made in a region that included seven highly populated counties, Marin said.

Marin called the five-day operation an "enforcement surge."

In a conference call with reporters, he said that such actions were routine, pointing to one last summer in Los Angeles under former President Barack Obama.

"The rash of these recent reports about ICE checkpoints and random sweeps, that's all false and that's dangerous and irresponsible," Marin said. "Reports like that create a panic."

He said that of the people arrested in Southern California, only 10 did not have criminal records. Of those, five had prior deportation orders.

Michael Kagan, a professor of immigration law at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, said immigration advocates are concerned that the arrests could signal the beginning of more aggressive enforcement and increased deportations under Trump.

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Demonstrators in support of the immigration rules implemented by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, rally at Los Angeles international airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Ringo Chiu)

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Demonstrators watch from an overpass as a counter-protester holds a sign outside Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) during a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order blocking visitors from seven predominantly Muslim nations in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017. Court decisions temporarily blocked the U.S. administration from enforcing parts of Trump's order after a day in which students, refugees and dual citizens were stuck overseas or detained and some businesses warned employees from those countries not to risk leaving the United States. Photographer: Dania Maxwell/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A counter-protester, right, holds a sign and chants in front of other demonstrators outside Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) protesting against U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order blocking visitors from seven predominantly Muslim nations in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017. Court decisions temporarily blocked the U.S. administration from enforcing parts of Trump's order after a day in which students, refugees and dual citizens were stuck overseas or detained and some businesses warned employees from those countries not to risk leaving the United States. Photographer: Dania Maxwell/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Demonstrators in support of the immigration rules implemented by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, rally at Los Angeles international airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Ringo Chiu)

Demonstrators in support of the immigration rules implemented by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, rally at Los Angeles international airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Ringo Chiu)

Demonstrators in support of the immigration rules implemented by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, rally at Los Angeles international airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Ringo Chiu)

A demonstrator in support of the immigration rules implemented by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, rallies at Los Angeles international airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Ringo Chiu)

Police officers stand guard as demonstrators in support of the immigration rules implemented by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, rally at Los Angeles international airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Ringo Chiu)

Demonstrators in support of the immigration rules implemented by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, rally at Los Angeles international airport in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Ringo Chiu)

Trump supporters demonstrate against a ruling by a federal judge in Seattle that grants a nationwide temporary restraining order against the presidential order to ban travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries, at Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport on February 4, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Arriving international travelers pass through a line of Trump supporters demonstrating against a ruling by a federal judge in Seattle that grants a nationwide temporary restraining order against the presidential order to ban travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries, at Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport on February 4, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Trump supporters argue with a man (R) who supports a ruling by a federal judge in Seattle that grants a nationwide temporary restraining order against the presidential order to ban travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries, at Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport on February 4, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

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"It sounds as if the majority are people who would have been priorities under Obama as well," Kagan said in a telephone interview. "But the others may indicate the first edge of a new wave of arrests and deportations."

Trump recently broadened the categories of people who could be targeted for immigration enforcement to anyone who had been charged with a crime, removing an Obama-era exception for people convicted of traffic misdemeanors, Kagan said.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Calif., and Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Writing by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Peter Henderson and Leslie Adler)

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