ICE: A Source for Investigative Immigration Records

An OGIS-sponsored forum on immigration records on May 23 brought FOIA professionals from agencies which maintain immigration records together with immigration attorneys and others interested in such records. The FOIA Ombudsman is spot-lighting each agency and the types of immigration records each holds.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) enforces civil and criminal immigration laws and, as such, maintains deportation records. ICE receives 16,000 FOIA/Privacy Act requests a year, many of them from requesters (or their attorneys) seeking their own records.

President Lyndon Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson and Bill Moyers behind the Statue of Liberty for the signing of the Immigration Act of 1965. ARC Identifier 2803427
President Lyndon Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson & Bill Moyers at the Statue of Liberty for the signing of the Immigration Act of 1965. ARC Identifier 2803427

The agency’s records include two databases; ENFORCE contains apprehension, detention and removal information, each piece of which is tied directly to a person who is not a citizen or national of the United States; the information duplicates what’s in the Alien File, or A-File. (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the custodian of A-Files.) Because it’s a database, ENFORCE is a “living” record while the records in the A-File reflect a moment in time. In some cases, it’s best to request information from both. Requesters who already have some data from the ENFORCE database may wish to make a supplemental request seeking access to more recent documents added after a specific date.

ICE also maintains a database for investigation of work site enforcement, child labor and intellectual property. Other ICE records include information from the Student and Exchange Visitor Program, which manages schools with non-immigrant students as well as F visas for non-immigrant academic students, M visas for non-immigrant vocational students and J visas for exchange visitors. If you wish to learn more about the types of records ICE (and other DHS components) maintain, check out DHS’s Systems of Records Notices, or SORNs.

ICE accepts requests on USCIS Form G-639. Or you can request records using an online form. Regardless of which method you use, mentioning how you or your client came into contact with ICE—through the workplace or through an enforcement and removal operation, for example—will help the agency pinpoint which office within ICE might have records responsive to your request.

A few other tips: Requesters seeking access to their medical records are moved to the top of the queue. And ICE is not required to respond to FOIA requests from a person who is a fugitive from justice if the records would help that person to remain a fugitive.