Setting the Record Straight About ICE

Guest Blogger: Thomas D. Homan, Acting Director, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of or indicate endorsement by the IACP.

Enforcing the law is a demanding and dangerous job, whether you’re a beat cop on patrol in Chicago, Illinois; a detective working a case in Dallas, Texas; or a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer working along the U.S. national borders. Good law enforcement partnerships increase public safety and promote confidence in the security of communities, which is why I believe that it is essential that ICE continues to work with its law enforcement partners, and improve relationships by pushing back on myths and distortions that run counter to our shared objectives.

In the 15 years since its creation, ICE has built a solid record of achievement. Our officers and agents are committed to the safety and security of all people, and theirs is a story that deserves to be accurately told. Too often, however, the hard work of our deportation officers and special agents is mischaracterized in the media, and people in the United States are given a distorted, misleading, or flat-out wrong impression about who ICE is, what we do, and why it matters. As a result, the public is misinformed, and the integrity of an outstanding group of professionals who put their lives on the line every day is wrongfully called into question. With every false claim and fabricated story, the critical partnership between our organizations suffers and our ability to protect the safety of all U.S. residents is diminished.

In addition, the challenge of confronting and correcting bad information is multiplied many times over with the rise and expansion of social media, where rumors and unsubstantiated reports spread rapidly, sometimes to the point of negatively influencing community leaders and local policy makers. This can be particularly challenging when local law enforcement is prevented from working more closely with ICE as a result. I believe a more accurate telling of what ICE is doing and why we are doing it can not only help correct false reporting, but can also improve our ability to strengthen the individual relationships many of our officers and agents are building with their local law enforcement counterparts.

I want to set the record straight regarding three of the most common misperceptions of what we do reported in the media: (1) indiscriminate raids or sweeps to haphazardly arrest those suspected of being in the United States illegally; (2) arrests in schools, churches, or other sensitive locations; and (3) targeting crime victims for deportation. None of these are accurate descriptions of ICE actions.

ICE conducts targeted immigration enforcement actions in compliance with U.S. federal law and agency policy. Our operations are carefully planned and executed to maximize public safety and minimize the risk to our officers. We do not conduct neighborhood raids or sweeps; instead, our officers go to a specific location to locate a specific individual. When the action is taken, it is based on a lot of investigatory and intelligence work developing leads on where we may locate the target of the arrest.

Of course, the safest, most efficient way to accomplish this targeted enforcement is for ICE officers to have access to local jails where removable criminal aliens are being held. In a majority of cases, our enforcement activities target specific individuals with a criminal history or those who have exhausted their due process rights and have a final order of removal. However, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary John F. Kelly has made it clear that, although criminal aliens and national security threats remain our highest priority, ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.

ICE’s 2011 policy memorandum on enforcement activity at sensitive locations, subject to limited exceptions, restricts enforcement actions at sensitive locations, including schools, hospitals, churches and other religious institutions, and sites during the occurrence of a public demonstration, such as a march, rally, or parade. In the rare circumstances when an enforcement action is taken at a sensitive location, the policy ensures that our special agents and deportation officers exercise sound judgment when enforcing federal law at these locations and make substantial efforts to avoid unnecessarily alarming or disrupting local communities.

Recent reporting by the media has mistakenly pointed to courthouse arrests as being an indication that ICE is ignoring its long-standing policy with respect to sensitive locations. However, the policy does not include courthouses as a sensitive location. In fact, a public courthouse, where individuals are subject to security screening prior to entry, is often the safest place for our officers to locate and arrest a wanted fugitive or criminal alien, particularly when past efforts to locate and apprehend an individual have been unsuccessful or met with resistance.

Our policy dictates that only individuals who are public safety threats can be arrested at courthouses. We arrest criminals at courthouses, not witnesses or victims. Our preference, of course, is for these individuals to be turned over to ICE by local authorities upon their release from jail, based on an ICE detainer request. Better yet, I believe we can strengthen public safety even more by increasing our access to local jails through cooperation with law enforcement agencies throughout the United States. Experience shows that when criminal custody transfers occur inside the secure environment of a jail or prison, it is far safer for everyone involved, including ICE and local law enforcement officers, the public, and the person being arrested. Additionally, locating priority fugitives is extremely resource-intensive; it is not uncommon for our criminal alien targets to use multiple aliases and provide authorities with false addresses. Without a viable address for a residence or place of employment, a courthouse may be our only opportunity to locate a target and take him or her safely into custody. Limiting or restricting the interaction between local and federal law enforcement is counterproductive to dismantling violent transnational gangs, exposing and preventing human trafficking, and strengthening individual and civic security. These are goals and objectives everyone in law enforcement should embrace, and ICE stands ready to do so.

We need your help. Rather than transferring convicted criminal aliens to ICE custody as requested, some agencies are routinely releasing these offenders back onto the street to potentially reoffend, and their victims are often other members of the immigrant community. While we understand that some jurisdictions are constrained by state or local laws and policies from working with us, we want to continue working with those jurisdictions to find common ground so that we can achieve our common purpose to uphold the law and protect the public. One of the concerns I’ve heard repeatedly around the country is that the visible presence of ICE officers in the community, knocking on doors and looking for fugitive and criminal aliens, is a problem—that it instills fear in the immigrant community and may also be a contributing factor to mistrust between the community and law enforcement. Although it’s been suggested that cooperating with ICE damages the relationship between local law enforcement and the community, I believe increasing ICE access to local jails would result in just the opposite; more arrests conducted in jails leads to fewer officers needed on the streets. ICE is charged with arresting these targets regardless of location. I would much rather that our officers do that within the safety and privacy of a jail than put officers in harm’s way by arresting targets when they are among the general public. Having more access to these targets in a jail setting can help alleviate some fear in the community and improves both public safety and officer safety.

ICE is also actively working with the U.S. Department of Justice to allay the legal concerns our state and local law enforcement partners have expressed about immigration detainer cooperation in the past. When ICE issues a detainer, requesting that an individual be held in criminal custody by a partner agency beyond the time he or she would otherwise have been released, we require that our officers have probable cause to believe the individual is an alien who is removable from the United States under U.S. federal immigration law, and we clearly document that probable cause determination. The detainer form requires service on the subject in order to take effect and includes a toll-free number for individuals to use in contacting ICE if they believe a detainer was improperly lodged. We have also begun including immigration arrest warrants—which require supervisory review—when we issue detainers.

The third misperception that has stemmed from misreporting is that ICE targets crime victims for arrest and deportation, forcing them to suffer in silence and remain hidden in the shadows of society. This misperception is perhaps the one most damaging to immigrant communities across the United States. The fact is that we recognize the urgent need for crime victims and witnesses to come forward. We work closely with state and local law enforcement to see that foreign nationals who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking crimes are informed about the availability of special visas to enable them to remain in the United States. ICE policies and directives provide assistance to aliens who are eligible for U Visas, T Visas, and other legal protections such as those found under the Violence Against Women Act. If a victim fails to report a crime committed against her because of this unfounded fear of ICE, then not only does a perpetrator escape justice, but that victim may also lose an opportunity to apply for lawful status. The bottom line is that being a victim or witness to a significant crime is an important factor when our officers and attorneys are weighing how to proceed in a particular case.

While the United States welcomes lawful immigrants and visitors, our borders are not open to illegal migration. We will continue to enforce the laws as written and remove those that are here illegally and do not qualify for any relief. The law is not a matter of opinion—it’s the law. Like all of you, I will never ask my team to enforce the law in one community but not in another. Doing so creates confusion among the ranks and can make an already risky situation even more dangerous for everyone involved.

With so many core values held in common between ICE and law enforcement agencies throughout the United States, I am confident that the men and women who I am privileged to lead will strive to work effectively with their state and local counterparts. Our citizens are better served when we work together, and we must never allow fear and falsehoods to overshadow all the good work our organizations can do, together, for the safety and security of all people.

 For more information, contact Richard Rocha, ICE Stakeholder Engagement,

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