Immigrants who are subject to removal are now much more likely to be detained by immigration authorities. The agency in charge of immigration enforcement was known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service. It is now known as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which is a bureau within the Department of Homeland Security. This section discusses the most frequent ways in which people are identified and detained by immigration authorities.

Stopped at the Airport after Traveling Abroad: Upon re-entering the United States, all noncitizens have to go through immigration inspection. Many have traveled to their home countries in the past without any problem, but the government now regularly updates its computers at airport inspection. The computers have access to criminal records and prior orders of deportation. There is no statute of limitations under the immigration laws and you may be stopped for convictions that occurred many years ago. If you have a criminal conviction you should consult a reputable immigration practitioner before traveling abroad to make sure that you will be able to re-enter the United States without a problem.

Interviewed While in Jail: The ICE has officers at most New York City jails and state prisons. You will likely be interviewed by a ICE agent and will be asked about your immigration status. You may not even realize that ICE was interviewing you. You will be placed into removal proceedings if there is a basis under the immigration laws to do so. The ICE officer will first place a “detainer” on you. Once you have completed your time in prison or jail, you will be transferred to ICE custody. Federal law says that state and local law enforcement authorities may only hold persons on immigration detainers for 48 hours after the completion of their jail time. This means that once you have completed your jail time, the immigration officials must take you into custody within two days. If they do not, you should contact your criminal defense lawyer and ask him or her to file a writ of habeas corpus with the state court demanding your release.

Immigration Applications: Most, if not all, applications to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), another agency within the Department of Homeland Security, now require security clearances and/or fingerprints as part of the application process. This includes applications for citizenship, renewal of green cards, employment authorization documents and even “status inquiries” to USCIS. USCIS now uses very sophisticated databases for their security clearances which identify old criminal convictions from anywhere in the U.S. When fingerprints are taken, USCIS gets a list of all your arrests and convictions. If you have a conviction that makes you removable, your application is likely to be denied and you very likely will be placed in removal proceedings.

Prior Orders of Deportation: ICE has a campaign to pick up persons living in the United States who have orders of deportation. Some people may not even know that they have been ordered deported or they may think that because the deportation order was entered many years ago it is no longer a problem. If you were ever in immigration court proceedings before but did not return to court, you may have been ordered deported in your absence. Persons with prior orders of deportation have been entered onto a national “absconder” list. Immigration authorities have 3 been working together with local law enforcement to pick up “absconders.” This can happen anywhere including at the border or even if you are stopped for a traffic violation.

Detention Facilities: ICE operates or has contracts with detention facilities all over the country. Some facilities are used exclusively for people seeking political asylum. Most detainees are held in local jails that are paid a fee by the government for holding detainees. ICE has the authority to detain you in any facility it wishes, even if it is in different state than your home.

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Last Reviewed: August 3, 2011