Federal immigration agents made nearly 500 arrests of individuals wanted for deportation during a national operation aimed at so-called “sanctuary cities."
“Operation Safe City focused on cities and regions where ICE deportation officers are denied access to jails and prisons to interview suspected immigration violators or jurisdictions where ICE detainers are not honored,” the agency said in a statement Thursday.
ICE executive associate director Matthew Albence told reporters in a conference call it's the first time an operation was directed at cities that don't fully cooperate.
"It's probably the first of many," he said.
At least 101 arrests were made in Los Angeles County, ICE said, and most of the individuals targeted were wanted on both criminal charges and immigration violations.
"Quite a few were previously released from local custody," said an L.A. based ICE agent who worked on the operation.
One individual arrested was a gang member from Oxnard who was wanted for assaulting police officers and entering the U.S. illegally.
The gang member had been on the run since he was released from Ventura County custody in 2015 despite an ICE request to hold him, the agent said.
Other local arrests included individuals with convictions or arrests for robbery, assault, kidnapping, lewd acts with children, and other sexual offenses, ICE said.
Albence said ICE would prefer to identify and take custody of these people after they were in local jails, but in areas where the local agencies refuse, agents will go into neighborhoods to find them.
"When we are out there in the community and we do encounter individuals that are here unlawfully, even if they're not targets of the operation...we are going to take enforcement action against those individuals in most cases," he said.
“Sanctuary jurisdictions that do not honor detainers or allow us access to jails and prisons are shielding criminal aliens from immigration enforcement and creating a magnet for illegal immigration,” ICE Acting Director Tom Homan said in a prepared statement.