Ten undocumented immigrants living in Ventura County were arrested by federal customs officials during a southland-wide sweep last week.

The action, conducted by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — the largest investigative branch of the Department of Homeland Security — was part of Operation Return to Sender, an ongoing federal program targeting immigrant fugitives who fail to comply with deportation orders.

In all, 338 illegal immigrants in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties were taken into custody Jan. 17-23. Additionally, 423 foreign nationals serving prison sentences in Southern California were also identified for deportation.

Of the 761 people arrested in the week-long action, more than 450 have already been deported, according to ICE. The rest are awaiting hearings.

“We are a nation of immigrants, but we are also a nation of laws,” says Virginia Kice western regional communications director for ICE. “Everyone who is arrested in this country on immigration violations has the right to due process. But if they lose their court fight and they are ordered [to be] deported, they should be prepared to comply with the judge’s order.”

Since it began in June 2006, Operation Return to Sender has caught more than 13,000 fugitives and identified about 3,000 previously unidentified deportable inmates nationwide, Kice says. There are an estimated 590,000-600,000 people who are considered immigration fugitives at large in the United States, she says.

While the majority of those arrested in the recent action were from Mexico, the violators included immigrants from 14 different countries.

On Jan. 29, the March 25 Coalition, a Los Angeles-based immigrant rights organization, held a press conference to formally announce their opposition to Operation Return to Sender and call for a moratorium on the enforcement actions.

“We find it absolutely hypocritical that George Bush … is telling us he is for immigration reform and for the legalization of those that are here undocumented, while conducting massive raids throughout the country,” says Javier Rodriguez, the coalition’s media strategist.