LOS ANGELES, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- In a massive operation targeting foreign nationals with criminal records, federal authorities said they arrested 280 people in a three-day surge in California.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said most of those arrested in the operation, which ended Thursday night, had convictions for serious crimes such as rape, armed robbery and sexual assaults.
At least 100 of those arrested have already been removed from the country, ICE said Friday.
John Morton, the Homeland Security Department assistant secretary who oversees ICE, said at a Los Angeles news conference the operation involved more than 400 agents and officers from ICE, the U.S. Marshals Service and several state and local agencies.
"Legal immigration is an important part of our country's history and the American dream exists for many immigrants," Morton said. "However, that dream involves playing by the rules and those who break our criminal laws will be removed from the country."
Those arrested represent more than 30 countries, ICE said, adding that 119 people were arrested in Northern California, 96 in the Los Angeles area and 71 in San Diego and Imperial counties.
Doris Meissner, director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute, told United Press International the operation "effectively targeted criminals consistent with the mission of the fugitive-operations program."
"That represents what seems to be a significant shift from prior practices, where the majority of people arrested didn't have criminal convictions," Meissner said.
In a September report, the institute found that from the inception of the National Fugitive Operations Program in 2003 through early 2008, 73 percent of the nearly 97,000 unauthorized immigrants apprehended did not have criminal records.