ICE: a thumbnail history


From an August 22, 2018 report by the Migration Policy Institute, “Once Relatively Obscure, ICE Becomes a Lightning Rod in Immigration Debate.” ICE is a new creature in that its focus is exclusively on immigration law enforcement, and not engaged in other immigration services.

With the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, Immigration and Customs Enforcement was cobbled together from deportation and investigations officers with the former U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and investigations officers from the U.S. Customs Service at the Treasury Department. The deportation officers became ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), and the investigations and Customs officers became the agency’s investigative component, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

While Border Patrol agents headed to the new Customs and Border Protection at the border, and ICE was charged with interior enforcement—detention, deportation, and criminal investigations.

In 2018, Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) alone received $4.1 billion for enforcement and removal, representing 58% of ICE’s total budget of $7.1 billion.

In 2011, after ICE national leadership directed agents to narrow their enforcement focus, the union representing ICE officers released a statement blasting the Obama administration, saying “the administration protects foreign nationals illegally in the U.S. but does nothing for our employees.” In 2012, a group of ICE agents sued the Obama administration for prohibiting them from arresting and removing those covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In 2016 the ICE union endorsed then-candidate Donald Trump, after 95% of its members voted in favor of endorsement.

Executive orders the President signed in his first week in office directed the agency not to exempt any class of unauthorized immigrants from enforcement and revoked the prosecutorial discretion guidelines that were first created in 1976 and updated over time. Today, a much wider group of noncitizens is subject to arrest and removal, and ICE no longer gives much consideration to factors such as long-term U.S. residence or other equities such as having U.S.-citizen children.

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