What is ICE and What Do They Do?

August 21, 2018

Philadelphia deportation lawyers explain what ICE is & their roll in enforcing immigration.As the outrage over the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border continues to grow, some protesters are lobbying for an end to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). What may be confusing to many observers is that ICE, established in 2003 to defend the United States border, is not the government agency responsible for separating these families or policing the country’s border.

The Customs and Border Protection agency has the responsibility for enforcing President Trump’s zero tolerance immigration policy by arresting adults illegally entering the country. It is the Border Control that has been separating the arrested adults from their children, not ICE.

As part of the Department of Homeland Security, ICE has special civil and criminal powers to assist with immigration control. Over 20,000 individuals work for ICE within all 50 states. In addition to immigration enforcement, ICE investigates the illegal movement of people and goods throughout the country and works with other Department of Homeland Security agencies in preventing terrorism.

Immigration Enforcement

Much of ICE’s focus is on the enforcement of U.S. immigration policies. Over 143,000 immigration arrests were made last year with ICE conducting raids to apprehend and deport individuals living illegally in the country. While under the Obama Administration, ICE focused its efforts on deporting immigrants with criminal records. However, more recently, ICE has had a wider scope of apprehending immigrants living illegally in the country, regardless of criminal history.

Some of the tactics employed in ICE raids, including recent raids of meat packing plants in Ohio and Tennessee, have brought strong criticism. Over 250 workers were arrested in these two raids alone. Following the Tennessee raid, over 500 immigrant children did not show up for school. Immigrant advocates believe these raids may result in long term trauma to these immigrant communities. Between 2010 and 2017 there have been over 1,200 complaints of sexual and physical abuse in immigration detention centers, largely against ICE workers. Other critics highlight the systematic failures in ICE detention centers, which they believe have led to preventable fatalities of detained immigrants.

Investigative Duties

ICE investigates the location of undocumented immigrants, including individuals living illegally in the United States for many years. Most of ICE’s investigative team works primarily in the United States. President Trump’s 2017 executive order increased the ICE agency by 10,000 employees to assist with the agency’s investigative and enforcement duties. ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit investigates major crimes, including human and drug trafficking, and weapons dealing. The HSI also has its own legal services department.

Terrorism Prevention

ICE is also tasked with monitoring and addressing significant national security threats throughout the country. Created in response to the 2001 terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, ICE, along with the Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Citizenship Services agencies, has a primary goal of protecting the American people. Early this year, ICE agents circulated an open letter to the Department of Homeland Security Secretary highlighting their concerns that the Trump administration’s emphasis on immigration enforcement has made it more difficult to focus on their terrorism prevention duties.

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