SAN DIEGO (AP) _ U.S. authorities arrested 359 suspected illegal immigrants during a two-week operation that ended Tuesday.
Most arrested in the San Diego area were Mexican but the suspects included people from 15 countries, including Cambodia, Cuba, Israel, Laos and Thailand. They were either returned to their countries or held in jail to wait for an appearance before an immigration judge.
The arrests were part of Operation Return to Sender, which has resulted in more than 18,000 arrests nationwide since it was launched last year. The campaign targets illegal immigrants with criminal records and those who have ignored deportation orders.
``Our message is if you are ordered deported, you should obey the immigration court's order,'' said Robin Baker, Immigration and Customs Enforcement field director for detention and removal in San Diego. ``Otherwise, ICE is going to track you down and send you home.''
Fifty of those arrested had criminal records, including past convictions for child sex offenses, robbery, and drug violations, according to immigration officials.
Nearly all the arrests occurred at homes, authorities said. Only 62 people were targets in the operation _ the rest were nearby when agents appeared, known as ``collateral arrests.''
Critics said the operation created a climate of fear.
``They're trying to sell it as something where they target (criminals) but it's become part of a larger dragnet,'' said Pedro Rios, director of the American Friends Service Committee's San Diego office. ``It's not effective, and it's not a good way to do enforcement.''
The arrests come amid signs of heightened immigration enforcement away from U.S. borders. A raid at a leather factory in New Bedford, Mass., last month resulted in the arrest of 361 workers suspected of being illegal immigrants. Nearly 70 people were arrested last week during an immigration raid at a temporary employment agency in Maryland.