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How To Find Out If Someone Is Detained by Immigration

What You Need to Know


It can be stress-inducing if you’re worried that someone you care about is detained by immigration. The sooner you know, the sooner you can get them the help they need. 

It isn’t always easy to locate someone who is detained by immigration. The more information you have about the person, the easier it will be to navigate your search through ICE.

What Is Immigration Detention?

Immigration detention is similar to jail, but it does not exist specifically to hold criminals accountable to the justice system. Immigration detention centers are holding centers for people suspected of immigrating without documentation, foreign nationals with certain criminal records, and people who cannot provide immigration officers with the information they need to confirm their immigration status or identity. 

Although people in immigration detention centers are deprived of their liberty like criminals, some people detained by immigration may not have committed a crime. 

Why Does Immigration Detain People?

Immigration officers detain people they suspect of being undocumented immigrants in the United States. Immigration officers also detain individuals who have criminal convictions or other status violations that make them removable from the United States. They’re held in immigration detention until the government can verify their status in the country. They may eventually be deported if they don’t have a valid visa or green card or relief from removal. 

Where Does Immigration Detain People?

Immigration can detain people in almost any official detention facility, even if the facility isn’t specifically designated for immigration use. There are Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities throughout the country. These facilities are few and far between. There are not enough ICE facilities to adequately house detained immigrants.

If an ICE facility isn’t available, the government can detain foreign nationals at local jails or in detention facilities located within United States military bases. Many immigrants are detained in county jails that work under contract with ICE to detain immigrants.

What Happens When Immigration Detains People?

ICE detains and processes immigrants similarly to how inmates are processed in county jail. Immigrants have the right to request an attorney, and ICE must allow their attorney to enter the detention facility. Most immigration detainees have the right to request a bond or a bond hearing. If they can financially satisfy the bond, they may be released while their removal proceedings are pending. 

ICE will attempt to question detainees. Many detainees answer these questions, hoping that their compliance will make the situation easier or help resolve misunderstandings. You are only required to provide your name to ICE and valid identification if you have it. You are not obligated to answer any other questions, and you shouldn’t. Refusing to answer questions without a lawyer present isn’t a crime, and the government cannot hold it against you.

ICE has 72 hours to provide immigrants with a notice of their hearing in immigration court before an immigration judge. These hearings are usually held remotely through live video streaming. Immigrants are rarely transported to immigration court, especially if they’re detained at a location far away from an immigration court. 

How Long Can Immigration Detain Someone?

ICE can only detain immigrants for a maximum of 48 hours before charging them with removability. This period doesn’t include Saturdays, Sundays, or nationally recognized holidays. Although this is the timeline as described in the law, ICE has a long history of not respecting this timeline. There have been cases where the U.S. wrongfully detained immigrants in ICE facilities for weeks, months, or even years without valid cause.

Outside involvement helps to keep ICE accountable. Suppose many people know that someone is detained in an ICE facility and hold officials responsible for adhering to the timeline. In that case, this may reduce the chances that an innocent foreign national will remain in detention for an extended period of time. 

Getting a lawyer involved often escalates the situation. Immigration lawyers know the laws, policies, and responsibilities governing ICE detention centers. If something is wrong or if someone is being held without cause for an extended period, an immigration attorney will be able to help resolve the situation. 

How Can You Find Out if Immigration Is Detaining Someone?

ICE does not allow you to search for information regarding detainees under 18. Detainees who are not adults are treated differently from adult detainees and may be sent to different facilities.

If you’re looking for an adult who ICE may have detained, ICE offers an online search engine that displays information about detainees

The search engine only works if you know which country an individual was born in. If you’re worried that your neighbor, friend, employee, or co-worker may be detained and you aren’t sure where they were born, you’ll need to try each possible country. 

You must also have the full first and last name of the person you’re searching for. If they’re a family member or an employee, you may have access to their alien registration number if applicable. Undocumented immigrants or foreign nationals who don’t have an ongoing case with USCIS or the Immigration Court won’t have an alien registration number.

While the tool is helpful in many circumstances, it isn’t perfect. For example, if ICE cannot verify the identity of a person in immigrant detention, they may not be able to list them in the system. You also won’t be able to receive any information about the situation by phone. 

If the U.S. cannot verify someone’s identity, the only person they can speak with is a lawyer. Their attorney is the only person with access to information about their case and their detention status. 

What Happens If You’re Not Sure If Immigration Detained Someone?

It can be extremely upsetting if you believe someone you love may have attempted to cross the border and you haven’t heard from them. 

It’s unsafe to attempt to cross the border of the United States without a visa or an appointment to apply for asylum. Many people become seriously injured or dehydrated attempting to make the journey. Immigrants have passed away before reaching the border or even after crossing it. You should intervene if you think a loved one might attempt the trek.

If you believe they have already attempted to cross the border, you can check with the local ICE field office. ICE field offices are located throughout the country. The local ICE Field office may provide you with information about their potential detention if you are a family member who can provide the person’s full name and date of birth. 

What Should You Do If Immigration Detains a Friend or Family Member?

If a friend or family member is detained by immigration, you can ask ICE if they will be allowed bond. If you can afford a bond, you can release the detained person until the situation concludes.

The most important thing you can do for your loved one is hire a competent immigration attorney. If you have to choose between bonding them out of detention or hiring an experienced lawyer, hiring an experienced lawyer is a better option. 

An immigration attorney will give your loved one their best chance at avoiding deportation. It’s especially important to call an experienced immigration attorney if you believe your loved one was wrongfully detained by immigration.

Immigration officials cannot deny detained individuals access to an attorney. Their attorney may be the only person allowed to speak to them in complete privacy. If you can speak with your detained loved one over the phone, don’t ask them to answer any questions or encourage them to say anything that may be incriminating. 

ICE can record and listen to your conversations and will have them interpreted if they aren’t spoken in English. Encourage them to explain the situation to their attorney in person. Their attorney can relay information to you privately with the permission of your detained loved one. Allow the attorney to act as a confidential point of contact.

Final Notes on Finding Out If Immigration Has Detained Someone

The United States immigration system can and should be improved. The system is disorganized, and people are often wrongfully detained. It can be difficult to determine if someone has been detained by immigration, especially if you don’t have access to their personal information or if errors exist in the database that makes someone essentially impossible to locate. 

If you believe your spouse or family member has been detained by immigration and you can confirm their whereabouts, it’s important to hire a detail-oriented lawyer as soon as possible. Contact us for a consultation.


What is immigration detention? And other frequently asked questions | Immigration Detention Coalition

Online Detainee Locator System | United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement

ICE releases U.S. citizen, 18, wrongfully detained near border | PBS NewsHour

ICE wrongfully detained nearly 1,500 Americans: report | New York Post


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