SANTA ANA, Calif. -- U.S. immigration arrests increased 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, a 38 percent increase from a comparable period last year. Nearly 11,000 had no criminal convictions, more than double the number of immigrants without criminal convictions arrested during a comparable period last year.
Homan said the increase in arrests stems from stepped up immigration enforcement, adding that morale has improved among agents under Trump because they are "allowed to do their job."
"Their job is to enforce the law, and that is exactly what they're doing, he said.
Even so, deportations were down from late January to late April compared with a year ago despite the new president's stepped up immigration enforcement pledge.
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 in Los Angeles. "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."