ICE ACCESS Programs - Fact Sheet

What is ICE and ICE ACCESS?

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (also referred to as "ICE") is a federal law enforcement agency under the Department of Homeland Security and the largest investigative arm of DHS. ICE is the agency charged with detaining and deporting immigrants.

In recent months, ICE has significantly expanded its operations by entering into agreements with local law enforcement and jails under an umbrella of programs that the agency refers to as "Agreements of Cooperation in Communities to Enhance Safety and Security" or, more simply, "ICE ACCESS."[1] The ICE ACCESS initiative combines 13 programs with the goal of using local criminal justice systems-the courts, jails, and police-to detain and remove people deemed to be "criminal aliens."[2] Under ICE ACESS, ICE enters an agreement (see side panel for complete list of programs) with state and local law enforcement agencies that allow these agencies to carry out immigration law enforcement functions that they would otherwise not be allowed to perform.[3]

287(g) Program

One of the most well-known ICE ACCESS programs is the "287(g) Program." Under Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), ICE is allowed to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)-also referred to as Memorandum of Agreement (MOA)-with local governments and contract with state and local police and jail officials to enforce immigration laws. Other programs designated specifically for tracking and arresting criminal aliens are the "Criminal Alien" Program (CAP) and the "Secure Communities" initiatives (see below). ICE spent over $1 billion on these programs in 2009 and, by 2010, funding is projected to reach nearly $1.5 billion.[4]

Criminal Alien Program (CAP)

The Criminal Alien Program (CAP) allows ICE to identifying "criminal aliens" who are incarcerated within federal, state and local facilities and prevent their release into the community by securing a final order of removal prior to the termination of their sentence. [5]

Local police and jails collect immigration information on all people arrested (e.g. booking or at arrest), share this information with ICE, and allow ICE to interrogate defendants in jail. Or, ICE encourages local law enforcement officials to use integrated criminal/immigration databases or ICE fingerprint checks. A "detainer" or immigration "hold" is placed on those in custody, preventing their release from jail and ensuring that they will only be released to ICE custody. Any suspicion of noncitizen status means the person gets referred to ICE for deportation. [6]

Secure Communities (SC) 

Secure Communities is an ICE initiative that allows the government to partner with local law enforcement agencies through the use of technology and information sharing. The purported goal of the program is to identify and remove "high-risk" criminal aliens who are held in state and local prisons by allowing local offices to screen foreign-born detainees in a national database managed by ICE. If the database makes a "match," the local police office or jail will then inform ICE of the finding.

At this time, there are no government regulations or any other procedural mechanisms in place for ICE ACCESS programs such as Secure Communities to ensure effective oversight and accountability. Not only do these programs undermine American values rooted in fairness, justice, and equality, but they actually "subvert the criminal justice system, erode due process, and make us less safe."[7]  

What's the problem with targeting criminal aliens?

On its website, ICE states that the 287(g) program-along with both the CAP and Secure Communities programs-aim to identify and remove "criminal aliens". However, the term "criminal alien" is used to describe any noncitizen who has been arrested or convicted for any criminal offense, regardless of the type or severity of the crime or whether the individual is undocumented or has lawful status. Under this broad definition, a "criminal alien" could easily include a legal permanent resident who has lived in the United States for almost all of his/her life and has committed a minor offense such as shoplifting.

Statistics show that ICE is classifying increasingly alarming numbers of noncitizens as "criminal aliens." Since fall 2006, ICE has identified and charged over 450,000 noncitizens through CAP, with rising numbers of immigrants charged each year.[8]

While the agency claims to target "serious criminals", the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that, in reality, ICE has failed to meet this goal. Instead agencies participating in ICE ACCESS programs have used their authority to track down and deport "easier" targets-such as those who commit a traffic offense or other minor violation of the law.[9] According to the GAO, "None of these crimes fall into the category of serious criminal activity that ICE officials described to us as the type of crime the 287(g) program is expected to pursue."[10]

What is at stake?

  • Community policing will create fear and erode trust: Increasing ICE cooperation with local law enforcement agencies will create feelings of fear in the community and discourage victims from requesting police assistance. It is likely that community members will be more hesitant to report crimes if they know that in addition to the criminal consequences, such as jail time or probation, there will also be immigration consequences that may result in detention or deportation. For example, a neighbor or victim might be reluctant to call the police and report domestic violence or other escalating family conflict if doing so may result in alerting immigration officials. They will be aware that such a call to police may result in life-changing immigration consequences for the victim and his/her family.
  • Screening for immigration violators encourages racial and ethnic profiling tactics: While ICE ACCESS program purport to focus on criminal immigrants, the lack of proper regulations and adequate oversight make it highly likely that local police may arrest individuals based on ethnic or racial profiling or as a pretext for checking the individual's immigration status. As stated in a recent series published by the Center for International Policy, "Without effective internal regulations, it remains possible that police will arrest and book individuals merely as a way to have them checked against the DHS database."[11] For example, a police officer can merely suspect that an individual is an illegal immigrant and, in order to gain access to his/her records, make an arrest under questionable or flimsy charges. Although the individual will not be guilty of the crime charged, the DHS background check may result in a determination that he/she has overstayed a visa, which will likely lead to severe immigration consequences-all based on a false arrest.
  • Lack of regulated prioritization will undermine the basis of ICE ACCESS programs: As previously mentioned, apprehensions under the 287(g) program have led to controversy-namely, the overwhelming majority of noncitizen deportations are for those who have committed misdemeanors, rather than violent "level 1" crimes. Rather than focusing resources on the priorities intended by Congress, ICE ACCESS programs have consistently focused on the "easiest" targets-those who commit minor offenses such as speeding or carrying an open container of alcohol-and not high level criminals or dangerous fugitives. According to a recent report about 287(g) partnerships, the program's central targets appear to be traffic violators and day laborers.[12]
  • Flawed government databases can lead to unlawful detentions: Many ICE ACCESS programs rely on flawed databases that could potentially lead ICE to detain legal immigrants or U.S citizens who are not legally deportable.
  • Financial costs of ICE ACCESS programs will outweigh benefits and shift scarce resources away from prosecuting true criminals: The expansion of ICE ACCESS programs will likely place a heavy burden on states and local governments that participate in the program. Instead of fighting crime, it is now common practice for many police departments to target immigrants for arrests on minor violations that result in their deportation by ICE. Police chiefs and scholars worry that political pressure to divert law enforcement to immigration enforcement will sabotage "sound and well established policing practices" and use up agency resources that should actually be used to apprehend dangerous or violent criminals.[13]
  • ICE ACCESS programs violate the basic promises of fairness and due process at the core of our legal system: Long ago the U.S. Supreme Court held that our Constitution requires that people accused of a crime be given the right to remain silent and the right to have a court-appointed attorney to defend these and other due process rights. Under immigration law, immigrants have far fewer due process rights, including no right to an attorney until after they have incriminated themselves, and no right to an appointed attorney ever. Arresting immigrants, locking them up in jail, interrogating them without lawyers, and then using this information to deport them, prosecute them, and jail them is un-American.[14]


[1] ICE Agreements of Cooperation in Communities to Enhance Safety and Security (ACCESS)

[2] "Dangerous Merger: Corrupting the criminal justice system for immigration enforcement."  Immigrant Justice Network.

[3] See Footnote 1.

[4] "Budget Fact Sheet - Fiscal Year 2009"

[5] See Footnote 1.

[6] Excerpted from "Dangerous Merger", see Footnote 2.

[7] Id.

[8] See Footnote 2.

[9] U.S. GAO "Testimony Before the Committee on Homeland Security, House of Representatives." March 4, 2009.

[10] Id.

[11] Border Lines Blog

[12] A. Shahani and J. Greene, Local Democracy on ICE: Why State and Local Governments Have No Business in Federal Immigration Enforcement (Justice Strategies, Feb. 2009), p. 2.

[13] See Footnote 2.

[14] Excerpted from "Dangerous Merger." See Footnote 2.


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