How to Look up an Immigration Detainee?

The situation at the United States’ southern border has been volatile in the past year. Refugees fleeing violence and poverty in Central American countries have converged on the international border, hoping to get through for a chance at a better life. Yet political infighting has put them in the midst of a major debate over immigration, prompting the Trump administration to lock most immigrants in detention facilities rather than allowing them to live in the country until their cases are heard.
 
While there is a searchable online system to identify and locate ICE detainees, frequent relocations and unannounced deportations can be troublesome. Often the individual is not given advance notice that they are being moved to another location or even deported to their home countries.

Locating Detainee in the US

Tips for locating a detainee:
search the ICE database by name, country of origin, and birthdate;
try to reach an ICE field office for assistance (easier if you are a family member);
search inmate databases of prisons near the point of entry;
when searching online, experiment with different spellings of the individual’s name, and
if a detention center is identified, call to confirm the individual’s presence as people are moved frequently (a partial list with phone numbers may be found here).
 
If a person is in ICE custody, he or she should have a deportation officer assigned to his case. This person is key to tracking the detainee and learning more about his status, upcoming hearings, and what aid you may be able to provide.
 
The number of potential immigrants held in detention fluctuates frequently, hovering around 50,000 in 2019, with about 1,000 being families. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, called ICE, opened giant shelters in disused WalMart store buildings and erected tent cities as temporary holding centers, frequently shuffling individuals among the various outposts.
If you have trouble locating an individual, it will be difficult to determine if he or she was deported as deportation records are civil proceedings and not public records. A private investigator or immigration attorney may be able to get access. Some records created after 1951 may be obtained by filling out a Freedom of Information request to US Citizenship and Immigration Services, but most of these records are related to genealogical research.
 
There are over 950 potential locations (prisons, processing centers, detention centers, shelters) across the country where immigrant detainees can be held. Locations of a few of the larger holding centers along the southern border may include:
Bernalillo County Detention Center (Albuquerque), which hosts adult men and women;
Baptist Children’s Center (BCFS San Antonio), for children;
Casa de San Juan (Catholic Charities, San Diego CA), for children;
Casa Padre (Brownsville TX), for children;
Central Texas Detention Facility (San Antonio, TX), for adults;
Children’s Center Inc. (Galveston TX), for children;
Corpus Christi Facility (TX), for children;
Devereux (TX), for children;
El Centro Detention Center (El Centro, CA), processing facility;
El Paso Processing Center (TX);
Eloy Detention Center (Eloy, AZ);
Florence Correctional Center (Florence, AZ), two facilities process and hold migrants;
Frio County Jail (Pearsall, TX);
Guadalupe city jail and county detention center (Seguin, TX);
Harlingen Field Office (Harlingen, TX), a staging area;
International Education Services (locations in Brownsville, Harlingen, and Los Fresnos, TX), for children;
Karnes Correctional and Residential centers (Karnes, TX) adults and families;
Laredo Detention Facility (Laredo, TX);
Limestone County Detention Center (Groesbeck, TX);
LSS El Paso (TX), for children;
Otero County Processing Center (Chaparrall, NM);
Polk County Jail (Livingston, TX);
Port Isabel Processing and Detention Center (Los Fresnos, TX);
Rio Grande Detention Center (Laredo, TX);
Rolling Plains Detention Center (Haskell, TX);
South Texas Detention Facility (Pearsall, TX) adults and families, segregated;
South Texas Family Residential center (Dilley, TX), for mothers and children;
Southwest Key centers (at least 16 locations), mostly juvenile centers, segregated by gender.
 
Complicating any search is the administration’s family separation policy which removed children from their parents – even those too young to answer questions about their own names or parents’ names. This affected at least 2,600 children, and the government admitted it hadn’t clearly identified the children’s parents to enable reunions at the appropriate time. Detainees under age 18 will be harder to find because they are not listed on databases. In 2018 there were almost 50,000 unaccompanied minors detained at the southern border.

The Process

There is a 48 hour limit to the time ICE has to pick up someone who is held for deportation. This is the period between being arrested and custody being transferred to federal immigration officials. A hearing will be scheduled to determine the immigrant’s status and history of criminal behavior (if any), resulting in a decision about releasing him/her on bond. The timeline for these proceedings can be long, depending on any backlog at the courthouse. Oftentimes an immigrant who has either family in the country or a job and who does not have a criminal record is awarded the opportunity to post bond and to live in the community until his next hearing. Those who are not allowed out on bond may face further criminal charges or could be held until ICE has availability to deport him.
 
Getting permission to stay in the U.S. permanently is complicated, and many people arrive on tourist or student visas then remain here illegally. By following the rules there are several routes to immigrating to the United States legally, including:
1. By application while still living in another country;
2. To rejoin family members living here;
3. By corporate sponsorship for work purposes;
4. By seeking United Nations refugee status, or
5. By seeking a Green Card, a renewable 10-year status.
 
Legal immigration is sifted by priorities, including those of high caliber who are leaders in the fields of arts, business, technology, medicine, and the like. Secondarily are skilled workers with advanced degrees or specialized training, then religious and diplomatic workers, and lastly those willing to invest between $500,000 and $1 million in businesses that employ at least 10 American workers.
 
Diversity visas are awarded to a small number of individuals (about 5,000) each year whose countries have not contributed significantly to U.S. immigration in recent years.

Current Detainees

Many of those arriving at the southern border of the United States appear to be prepared to sneak across the border to find work, as has been done for decades. The current government administration is cracking down on all types of immigration, making it harder to either sneak in or to apply for legitimate immigration. There are also immigration quotas to contend with, which are limits on the number of people from various regions. Most years the United States only accepts about 3,000 immigrants from Latin America.
 
The situation is not new and numbers of detainees have fluctuated vastly over time, with about 337,000 illegal immigrants caught at the border in 2015, nearly 200,000 lower than the year before.
 
Many seek to immigrate to avoid threats to their lives in their home countries. These people may choose to apply at the U.S. embassy in their home country because priority is given to those fleeing from persecution. Proof of the threat is generally required, whether it’s police reports or copies of harassing emails and texts. Priority is given to refugees from specific countries and to those with family members already residing in the U.S. The federal government determines which specific countries are given this status each year.

Immigration Problems in the USA

Illegal immigration to the United States is not a new problem. There are currently about 10 million such people living in the country, comprising nearly 3 percent of the population. However the political focus has shifted to keeping immigrants (particularly those from Latin American countries) out or deporting those who do not have an authorization, creating a rift between those who seek to crack down and those who are not bothered by the situation. Previous administrations sought only to deport those in flagrant violation of the law, including convicted felons. In fact, many cities have declared themselves “sanctuaries” where immigration officials will not find willing partners among officials and even law enforcement for detaining and deporting peaceful immigrants.