Published: Apr 30, 2010 11:07 PM EDT

MIAMI - The U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has announced that a total of 258 criminal aliens were arrested in Florida and Puerto Rico. The sweep, said to be part of a "targeted ICE operation," led to 14 local arrests.

In all, the three-day-long Operation Cross Check yielded the largest-ever number of arrests in one sweep. A total of 596 foreign nationals with criminal records were apprehended in the southeastern U.S. This operation was the biggest operation targeting at-large criminal aliens ever carried out by ICE in the region.

During the operation, which concluded late Thursday night, ICE officers and agents worked in teams with the U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and local law enforcement agencies in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Puerto Rico.

Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for ICE John Morton cited the operation -- which involved nearly 400 federal and local law enforcement officers and agents -- as another example of ICE's focus on indentifying and removing criminal aliens from the United States.

"We are a compassionate nation with a proud history of immigration," said Morton. "But we are also a nation governed by laws specifically designed to protect its citizens and residents. Those who come to the United States to prey upon our neighbors and communities will be prosecuted for their crimes and ultimately returned to their home countries. The results of this week's operation demonstrate ICE's commitment to that principle."

 Arrests in Florida and Puerto Rico accounted for the largest number of apprehensions during the operation where a total of 258 aliens were taken into custody. The 258 arrests include 48 arrests in Miami-Dade county, five arrests in Monroe county, 24 arrests in Broward county, 11 arrests in West Palm Beach, 10 arrests in Tampa, 25 arrests in Orlando, 14 arrests in Ft. Myers, and 13 arrests in Puerto Rico. The overall regional arrests include 544 men and 55 women, representing 60 different nations, including countries in Latin America, Asia, Europe, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Due to their serious criminal histories and prior immigration arrest records, at least 12 of those arrested during the enforcement surge face federal prosecution. A conviction for felony reentry carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

Among the so-called "worst" offenders caught this week during Operation Cross Check in Florida is Lenroy Rolle, of the Bahamas. He was arrested Tuesday in Florida. Rolle's criminal convictions include Attempted Sexual Battery and Improper Exhibition of a Dangerous Weapon/Firearm in Lee County. He is now in ICE custody pending removal from the United States.

Any of the foreign nationals arrested during this operation who have active warrants will be referred to the associated local law enforcement agency and ICE will place detainers to ensure they return to ICE custody following disposition of their criminal cases. Those who have outstanding orders of deportation, or who returned to the United States illegally after being deported, are subject to immediate removal from the country. The remaining individuals are in ICE custody awaiting a hearing before an immigration judge, or pending travel arrangements for removal in the near future.

This week's special enforcement action was spearheaded by ICE's Fugitive Operations Program, which is responsible for locating, arresting, and removing at large criminal aliens and immigration fugitives -- aliens who have ignored final orders of deportation handed down by the nation's immigration courts. ICE's Fugitive Operations Teams give top priority to cases involving aliens who pose a threat to national security and public safety, including members of transnational street gangs and child sex offenders. This week's operation focused on the apprehension of criminal aliens, which are not necessarily fugitives.

The enforcement operation in Florida and Puerto Rico was lead by ICE's Office of Detention and Removal Miami Field Office with the assistance by ICE's Office of Investigations in Miami, Tampa and San Juan, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Office of Field Operations and the U.S. Border Patrol, Citizenship and Immigration Services, Florida Keys Federal Probation, United States Marshals Service, Office of Inspector General, Palm Beach Sheriffs Office, Lee County Probation, Lee County Sheriffs Office, Office of the Chief Information Officer 9th Circuit Probation, Alachua County Sheriffs Office, Clay County Sheriffs Office, Daytona Beach Circuit Probation, Florida Highway Patrol, Jacksonville Sheriffs Office, Orange County Fugitive Task Force, Orange Park Police, Putnam County Sheriffs Office, Sanford Circuit Probation, St. Augustine Police Department and the St. Johns Sheriffs Office.

The officers who conducted this week's special operation received substantial assistance from ICE's Fugitive Operations Support Center (FOSC) located in South Burlington, Vt. The FOSC conducted exhaustive database checks on the targeted cases to help ensure the viability of the leads and accuracy of the criminal histories. The FOSC was established in 2006 to improve the integrity of the data available on at large criminal aliens and immigration fugitives nationwide. Since its inception, the FOSC has forwarded more than 550,000 case leads to ICE enforcement personnel in the field.

This week's enforcement operation is just one facet of the Department of Homeland Security's broader strategy to heighten the federal government's effectiveness at identifying and removing dangerous criminal aliens from the United States. As a result of this strategy, ICE removed a total of 136,126 criminal aliens from the United States last year, a record number.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the largest investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security.

ICE is comprised of four integrated divisions that form a 21st century law enforcement agency with broad responsibilities for a number of key homeland security priorities. For more information, visit: www.ICE.gov. To report suspicious activity, call 1-866-347-2423.