ATLANTA - The Department of Homeland Security announced Monday the arrests of 680 people in a nationwide immigration enforcement effort.
"Last week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) launched a series of targeted enforcement operations across the country," Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, said in a statement. "These operations targeted public safety threats, such as convicted criminal aliens and gang members, as well as individuals who have violated our nation’s immigration laws, including those who illegally re-entered the country after being removed and immigration fugitives ordered removed by federal immigration judges."
Of the people arrested, an estimated 75 percent were "criminal aliens," according to the agency, convicted of crimes including DUI and murder. Data on the other 25 percent was not made available.
"It creates a lot of fear in the community. People are concerned about going to the store, going to pick their children up at school. People are concerned that their families will be broken up," said Atlanta immigration attorney Sarah Owings, who also serves as Chair of the Georgia and Alabama branch of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
The enforcement activities have sparked protests in many parts of the country, but ICE officials said Monday that the agency has conducted similar national efforts since 2011.
Owings, however, said last week's immigration raids were different that those executed under the Obama Administration.
"The priorities were narrow under Obama because he wanted to direct resources especially to making sure our community was safe, that the terrorists were not on the streets, aggravated felons were not on the streets, people who were convicted of DUIs and in undocumented status or you know, had serious misdemeanors," said Owings. "People like that were considered a priority under Obama and they were taking enforcement actions against people that were included in that group. However, what we're seeing right now is a lot of collateral consequences."
According to ICE, officers working out of the Atlanta office arrested 190 unlawfully present aliens, with 87 of those in Georgia. Of the 190 people arrested, 127 had previous criminal convictions. 27 more had returned to the U.S. after previously being deported and 17 were issued final orders of removal by a federal immigration judge. ICE did not offer information about the remaining 17.
"As an American citizen, I would much rather the government go after the big fish than the little fish," said Owings.