Hundreds arrested in California immigration sweep

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LOS ANGELES, Oct 4 (Reuters) More than 1,300 foreign-born criminals and other immigrants who ignored deportation orders have been rounded up in southern California in the last two weeks in what officials said was the largest sweep of its kind in the United States.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers arrested 530 immigration violators and took custody of almost 800 foreign nationals already in prison, but who had previously evaded deportation orders.

''The 1,300 taken into custody by ICE in the past two weeks include numerous suspected street gang members, as well as aliens convicted of sex offenses, assaults and kidnapping,'' Immigration and Customs Enforcement Assistant Secretary Julie Myers told a news conference yesterday.

''We have made our communities safer and protected the integrity of our nation's immigration system,'' she said.

Most of those arrested were Mexicans, but the group included immigration violators from 30 countries, including Armenia, India, Indonesia, Jordan and Peru. More than 600 have already been repatriated, officials said.

US authorities have cracked down this year on the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States, as attempts to reform immigration laws have stalled in the US Congress.

Businesses that employ undocumented workers have been fined, and factories and homes raided, provoking controversy and lawsuits from civil rights groups and labor unions.

The arrests announced on Wednesday were carried out by the Fugitive Operations Program, which was set up in 2003 and has expanded by 23 teams this year to a total of 75 nationwide.

Five teams are assigned permanently to the Los Angeles area -- the most in any US city, officials said.

REUTERS SBA AS0427

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