About the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement

An Introduction to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the second largest law enforcement agency in the federal government (behind only the FBI) with more than 20,000 employees working throughout the country and in more than 47 foreign countries. ICE serves as a front line national defense component, with a mission to ensure national security through the enforcement of laws pertaining to border security, immigration, trade and customs.

ICE is led by the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Appointed on March 16, 2014, Thomas S. Winkowski currently holds the head position of ICE which is the largest agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. With an annual operational budget of $5.34 billion (2014), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is responsible for the enforcement of 400 federal statutes.

Through two directorates, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), and more than 400 domestic offices and 50 international offices, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ensures public safety and homeland security by collecting information about criminal and terrorist activities, detaining and removing unlawful persons, and executing security operations. ICE is one of the Department of Homeland Security’s most important and powerful tools in interdicting and neutralizing foreign threats.

Special Agents in the directorate of Homeland Security Investigations perform a variety of duties critical to national and public safety. Within the 10,000 person directorate, there are more than 6,500 law enforcement officers who are authorized under a number of federal statutes to investigate crimes like gang activities, human smuggling, drug trafficking, cybercrime, financial crimes, and weapons smuggling. The HSI is also responsible for collecting and gathering intelligence about these criminal activities which may relate to foreign or terrorist operations. The National Security Investigations Division within HSI is a major counter-terrorism organization that identifies nuclear, biological and chemical Weapons of Mass Destruction and targets them for interdiction or neutralization.

Among the most elite tactical units in federal law enforcement is the HSI’s Special Response Teams. There are only 250 members in the 17 SRT units in the U.S., stationed at major entry points. These highly trained units are tasked to high risk warrant searches, arrest, hostage rescue operations, barricaded subjects, sniper coverage, and VIP protection. In national emergencies, Special Response Teams may be deployed to aid in high risk rescue missions. In addition to providing tactical support to local, state and federal police organizations, SRT units often cross-train with Delta Force and FBI Hostage Rescue Teams.

ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations Directorate is primarily tasked with enforcing federal immigration laws. The ERO directorate designates its officers as Immigration Enforcement Agents (IEA). IEA’s are responsible for identifying, arresting and removing illegal aliens. ERO utilizes Fugitive Operations Teams to locate and apprehend alien fugitives who are under a Warrant of Deportation.

The ERO Directorate works closely with local and state law enforcement authorities to help identify unauthorized aliens. They use a variety of federal programs like Operation Secure Communities, which collects fingerprints from offenders to determine if they are wanted by any federal immigration or counter-terrorism agencies. IEA’s are also major components of many federal anti-gang task forces. In a recent anti-gang operation designated Operation Community Shield, IEA’s arrested almost 20,000 gang suspects.

Because of its central role in identifying individuals and materials entering the United States, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has become a major agency for collecting intelligence, interdicting weapons, terrorists and WMD’s, and neutralizing threats to the country. ICE has grown from an agency responsible for legal customs and immigration into a major component of national defense.

History of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has its roots in governmental actions in the 1800’s. In 1875 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that immigration was a federal responsibility rather than the states’. In 1892, the U.S. Treasury Department established the Office of the Superintendent of Immigration, which admitted or denied entry. This office opened the Ellis Island immigration station in the 1890’s.

In 1906, Congress enacted the Basic Naturalization Act which established the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization. In 1924, Congress created the Border Patrol to secure the nation’s borders against illegal immigration. In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt, out of concern for Nazi infiltration, raised the number of INS agents from 4,000 to 8,000. The INS was also authorized to relocate Japanese-Americans to internment camps during wartime.

Congress placed a number of limits on immigration in the 1960’s, granting preference to skilled workers. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 provided broader authority to the INS, allowing it to serve more as a law enforcement agency.

The modern U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was born out of the events that occurred on September 11, 2001. When the attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. took the lives of almost 3,000 Americans, the federal government immediately implemented a number of national security initiatives. Among the most important of these was the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which authorized the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.

The following year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was officially launched. Along with the creation of this department, DHS absorbed a number of agencies including the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the U.S. Customs Service. These two agencies were reapportioned into three agencies: Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

One of the most successful programs in ICE history has been Operation Secure Communities, which investigates any deportable aliens arrested for local law offenses, and screens them for federal law violations. Since 2008, when Operation Secure Communities was initiated, ICE has identified almost 692,000 criminal aliens residing the U.S. and targeted them for deportation.

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