SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) - Immigration arrests increased by nearly 40 percent in early 2017 as newly emboldened agents under President Donald Trump detained more than 40,000 people suspected of being in the country illegally - with a renewed focus on immigrants without criminal convictions.
The numbers released by Acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Thomas Homan provide a snapshot of how the new president is carrying through on his campaign promises to make immigration enforcement a top priority.
Overall, 41,300 people were arrested for deportation. Nearly 11,000 had no criminal conviction, more than double the number of immigrants without criminal convictions arrested during a comparable period last year.
Even so, deportations carried out were down from late January to late April compared to a year ago despite the new president's stepped up immigration enforcement effort.
The increase in arrests of people without criminal convictions has generated outrage across the U.S. from Trump opponents who believe otherwise law-abiding families are being rounded up.
The report was made public as the Trump administration seeks to promote its accomplishments despite a growing scandal over the firing of the FBI director and the sharing of intelligence with Russian officials.
The president "puts this out to distract from the real affairs of our country," said Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights. "It is unfortunate that he basically is using the pain and destroying our families as a way by which to give red meat to his base."
Some highlights in the numbers:
- 41,300 immigrants were arrested on suspicion of being in the country illegally between Jan. 22 and Apr. 29, up from 30,000 during a similar year-earlier period.
- 30,500 of those arrested had criminal convictions, compared to 25,800 for the earlier period.
- 10,800 did not have criminal convictions, compared to 4,200 in the previous period.
Immigration enforcement operations have generated headlines nationwide since Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 25. Many of them targeted violent offenders with felony records on crimes ranging from assault to murder.
But other immigrants have also been caught up in enforcement efforts, including people given leniency under the Obama administration.
Some examples highlighted by advocates include an Indian taxi driver in Southern California who lived in the country for nearly two decades and was arrested last week at a routine check with immigration authorities and a Mexican woman in Utah who was detained last month while shopping with her daughter.
Homan said the arrest increase came from stepped up enforcement, adding that morale has improved among agents under Trump because they were "allowed to do their job."
"Their job is to enforce the law, and that is exactly what they're doing, he said.
While arrests of immigrants targeted by agents rose, the number of deportations fell 12 percent during the period, Homan said.
He attributed the drop to a decline in arrests on the U.S.-Mexico border where immigrants are usually shipped home quickly and a lengthy backlog in U.S. immigration courts that issue deportation orders.