WASHINGTON, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- More than 120 people who are in the United States illegally were arrested over the weekend by federal authorities and face immediate deportation as part of a renewed crackdown on illegal immigration, Homeland Security officials said Monday.
The department said those rounded up are part of an unexpected wave of migrants who crossed the United States' southern border in the spring of 2014 -- which include families and unaccompanied children from Mexico and Central America.
"As I have said repeatedly, our borders are not open to illegal migration; if you come here illegally, we will send you back consistent with our laws and values," Homeland Security chief Jeh Johnson said in a news release Monday.
Of the 121 arrested over the weekend, officials said most were apprehended in Georgia, North Carolina and Texas.
"In the spring and summer of 2014 we faced a significant spike in families and unaccompanied children from Central America attempting to cross our southern border illegally," Johnson continued. "In response, we took a number of actions in collaboration with the governments of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, and the numbers declined dramatically."
The Homeland Security chief added that the number of people trying to cross the border illegally has begun to climb again in recent months -- despite more than 330,000 migrants being apprehended in 2015, the second-lowest number in more than four decades.
Last month, Homeland Security officials said they expected to arrest and deport hundreds of immigrants who entered the United States illegally and have ignored warnings to leave.
Immigration is expected to be a pivotal issue in this year's presidential election. GOP contender Donald Trump stirred controversy recently when he promised a short-term ban on all Muslims entering the United States if he is nominated by his party in July and elected in November.
Johnson said the department's weekend roundup is part of President Barack Obama's overall plan to allow a path to citizenship while maintaining some control over migrants who don't intend to follow the legal track.
"These new department-wide priorities focus our enforcement resources on convicted criminals and threats to public safety," Johnson said, noting that the immigrants under the department's microscope are those who entered after Jan. 1, 2014. He also outlined eight points the DHS is focusing on to comply with Obama's plan.
The points listed are deportation, border security, unaccompanied children, smuggling, cooperation with the Mexican government, public awareness, citizenship and the Flores case, which addresses child migrants.
"I also recognize the reality of the pain that deportations do in fact cause. But, we must enforce the law consistent with our priorities," Johnson said.