Federal agents in Minnesota have arrested 37 illegal immigrants with criminal records as part of a national dragnet that reflects the Obama administration's new emphasis on deporting people with serious felonies rather than those with document violations.

Twenty-eight criminal aliens were taken into custody in the Twin Cities in the past two weeks, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office in Bloomington announced Wednesday.

Nationwide, ICE arrested nearly 3,000 criminals for deportation as part of an enforcement action dubbed "Cross-Check II,'' an intensified effort to match various criminal databases to track down convicted aliens living illegally in the United States.

Locally, the effort paid off in the arrest of a 50-year-old Mexican national who was arrested at the U.S. Immigration office in Bloomington. When the man showed up on an immigration matter, a records check showed he had been convicted for transporting drugs in 2001 and for human trafficking in 1985, authorities said. He was detained immediately.

Arrests also occurred in such communities as Andover, Monticello, Faribault, Northfield, Red Wing, Owatonna and Austin.

"The criminal aliens we targeted in this operation are not people we want in our communities,'' said Scott Baniecke, ICE field office director for the St. Paul Area of Operations, in a news release. The St. Paul region encompasses Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa and Nebraska.

Ninety-eight people were arrested throughout that region during the sweep.

ICE did not provide a breakdown of the types of crimes committed by those arrested in the region. But nationally, ICE directors said, more than 1,600 had felony convictions ranging from attempted murder, manslaughter and kidnapping to child abuse and sex crimes against minors.

Of the 5,300 immigrants removed from this region so far this year, just under 3,000 have criminal records -- 56 percent, according to ICE data. That is the highest share in the past 10 years, figures show.

Under review

For the past month, immigration officials in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have been promising to focus more attention on deportations of the most dangerous criminal aliens, rather than those lacking proper documentation.

"This is what we should be doing; this is good law enforcement," ICE Director John Morton said at a Washington news conference. "It makes sense to be removing people who are committing crimes who are here illegally, first and foremost."

In an Aug. 18 letter to a group of senators who have pushed for immigration reform, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said officials from her agency and the U.S. Department of Justice would review about 300,000 deportation cases pending in federal immigration court.

At the time, officials said that most non-criminals and those who do not pose a threat to public safety or national security would likely have their cases put on hold indefinitely. Those people would be allowed to stay in the country and apply for a work permit.

Morton said Wednesday that the review has not started. But agents in the field have been instructed to use discretion in evaluating who should be arrested and put in the system for deportation. In a June memo, Morton said discretion could be used in a variety of cases, including for people with no criminal record and for young people brought to the United States illegally as children.

While the focus is on criminals and security threats, some non-criminals still may face deportation because ICE has not suspended enforcement operations for everyone else, Morton said.

"We don't have the power and are not going to suspend enforcement for an entire class of individuals in a broad way," Morton said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Paul McEnroe • 612-673-1745