Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was created in 2003 after the devastating events of 9/11. Its role in immigration enforcement, investigating the illegal trafficking of people and goods and preventing terrorism is more vital than ever.
If money is any indication of its importance, ICE had a budget of only $3.3 billion when it was initially launched in 2003; in FY 2019, it received nearly $9 billion. Of that, money went to more than 2,000 additional officers, and an upgraded system to verify eligibility to legally work in the U.S. The agency has more than 20,000 employees in 400 offices worldwide.
ICE’s focus has shifted largely to interior immigration enforcement, but it still has a large workforce near the border and continues to collaborate with Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). While much of its work to stop illegal trade focuses on drugs, guns and currency, ICE also deals with counterfeit and illegal merchandise coming into the U.S. including stopping the trade of child pornography and returning stolen cultural artifacts to their rightful owners.
Since 2017, there has been a larger focus on interior immigration enforcement, and a decrease in border security by the department. ICE border arrests have gone down by 25% in this time, as they work to combat transnational gang activity, carry out investigations of criminal organizations, and worksite enforcement. On the worksite, they not only addresses individuals in violation of laws, but businesses who knowingly violate the law, and take advantage of unauthorized workers by offering low pay and poor working conditions.
Within ICE, there are four sub-agencies: Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA) and Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).
- ERO is responsible for high-profile immigration enforcement and the management of detention centers.
- HSI investigates financial crimes, human smuggling/trafficking, child exploitation and transnational gang activity through its National Gang Unit and Operation Community Shield. Their efforts have focused largely on the Salvadoran gang MS-13; of the 4,800 gang-related arrests HSI made in FY 2017, 555 were related to MS-13.
- OPLA offers legal services and litigates cases, while OPR oversees all DH functions including allegations of employee misconduct and making sure detention facilities meet agency standards.
Working at ICE requires experience with DHS or a relevant degree, and provides plenty of job opportunities in addition to law enforcement officer. Auditors use data and statistics to perform complex financial audits of businesses and criminal organizations; investigative assistants offer technical admin and clerical support for case research, trial prep and seizure reports; and technical enforcement officers lend their expertise in electronic surveillance as part of investigative and high-risk special-ops efforts, to name a few.
These days, ICE is often at the heart of political debate. A closer look at the agency finds some incredible men and women working hard to protect the country from those entering to do harm - and to protect the rights of those entering in search of a better, safer future for themselves and their loved ones.
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