Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) removed 77 people who were in the U.S. illegally as part of a sweep that took place over New Year's weekend that targeted families who had crossed in at the southwest American border.
As part of the removal effort, migrants were put on repatriation flights that took place between Jan. 5-7, from San Antonio, Texas, to Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala.
"These enforcement actions targeted adults and their children who were subject to final orders of removal, who had an opportunity to present their claims to an immigration judge," said an ICE spokesperson in a statement today.
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson announced last week that 121 undocumented individuals were taken into custody as part of a targeted effort to deport families that were apprehended after May 1, 2014.
In the spring and summer of 2014 the number of families and unaccompanied children from Central America crossing illegally into the U.S. spiked. Apprehensions dropped down, but have risen again in the last few months.
Government officials have expressed concern over the rising numbers.
"Our borders are not open to illegal migration; if you come here illegally, we will send you back consistent with our laws and values," Johnson said in a statement when he announced the results of the sweeps.
Since the summer of 2014 ICE has been removing migrants to Central America at an increased rate, averaging about fourteen flights a week. However, most of those returns had been single adults, according to DHS.
Credit: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Johnson issued new immigration priorities in November 2014, but the targeted ICE operations to remove families was a recent development.
"This should come as no surprise. I have said publicly for months that individuals who constitute enforcement priorities, including families and unaccompanied children, will be removed," Johnson said.
The nation-wide sweeps targeted adults and their children that were subject to final orders of removal, not people who had pending appeals before an immigration court, according to ICE.
The removal of families has caused outrage among many Democrats on Capitol Hill. A letter to President Obama demanding an end to immigration home raids has now received more than 130 signatures, members said this afternoon.
-Ben Siegel contributed reporting.