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ICE: The Agency in Charge of Enforcing U.S. Immigration Law

To understand immigration in the U.S., you have to understand the origins and responsibilities of ICE, which was formed in 2003.

-> This article is part of Documented’s Glossary. We want to make it easier to understand the U.S. immigration system. If you want to know more about different visa types and immigration terms, please check our library here.
-> To find useful information for immigrants, such as where to find free food or legal representation, check out our master resource guide.

As a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, congress and the Bush administration created the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2002, which changed the national immigration system and put in place a newly created agency called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to oversee and enforce the United States’ immigration laws. 

Formed in 2003, ICE took on roles previously delegated to the Institutional Removal Program and the Alien Criminal Apprehension Program, both of them within the Immigration and Naturalization Service under the Department of Justice, which had been replaced by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

ICE contains two primary divisions: Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO).

ERO is mainly responsible for arresting, detaining, and removing people who are unlawfully present in the United States. HSI is tasked with overseeing criminal investigations covering immigration crime; human rights violations; human smuggling; smuggling of narcotics, weapons and other contraband; financial crimes; cybercrime; and export enforcement issues.

The number of people ICE arrested, detained, or removed had increased over the past few years– in FY2019 the number of detained population saw a 20% increase when compared to FY2018. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of ERO arrested immigrants fell to 103,603 in Fiscal Year 2020 from 143,000 the previous year. Additionally, the number of removals fell by 30%, from 267,000 to 185,884. 

Also Read: The Homeland Security Act of 2002: A Summary on How It Reshaped the U.S. Immigration System

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