NCSL visits Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Phoenix, Arizona

At a December 8th visit to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) headquarters in Phoenix, AZ, ICE officials shared that the department has captured 20,000 plus smugglers and aliens a week along the Arizona/ Mexico border alone. The majority of northbound smuggling involves aliens and drugs and the majority of southbound smuggling involves money and weapons. Smugglers will carry out their jobs by use of any means including strapping aliens to the under-carriage of cars and hiding drugs in car bumpers or within body cavities.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Task Forces on Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness and Immigration and the States met in conjunction with NCSL’s Fall Forum. Because of emerging domestic border and immigration related issues, a briefing by various Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Officers and tour of their detention facility was very timely. ICE is a federal law enforcement agency under the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for identifying, investigating, and disassembling weaknesses regarding the nation's border and infrastructure security. The largest units within DHS are Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and Enforcement & Removal Operations (ERO). Very informational and informative briefings were provided by a Special Agent in Charge of ICE/HSI, a Field Office Director on ICE/ERO, and an attorney with the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor within ICE; the presentations focused on protocols, procedures, legalities, and technology within their specific departments. Legislators took the opportunity to ask questions about the accessibility to ICE and generally how ICE relates to their very diverse districts.

The NCSL delegation concluded the visit with a tour of the ICE detention and processing area where ICE detainees are brought in from federal, state, local institutions for processing. In these facilities detainees are photographed, fingerprinted and interviewed by ERO Immigration Enforcement Agents and Deportation Officers and aliens previously deported with criminal backgrounds, are screened for possible federal prosecution. Once processed, detainees will be prosecuted, removed the same day, or sent to one of two ICE detention centers for further removal proceedings. The staging/processing center is an under-12 hour facility and the detainees are housed in holding cells until their departure. Records show that at any time, these detention facilities hold an average of 32,000 detainees nationwide.