How to Become an ICE Agent

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) serves as the largest investigate agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). ICE was created in 2003 to coordinate and combine the investigative and enforcement divisions of the U.S. Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. ICE is now a major federal employer, with more than 20,000 employees throughout the world.

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In addition to its offices and operations in all 50 states, ICE also has a presence in 47 foreign countries.  This federal law enforcement agency has 400 offices and an annual budget of $5.7 billion.

In its Strategic Plan 2010-2014, ICE detailed its agency key priorities, which include:

  • Preventing terrorism and improving security
  • Protecting the borders against illegal travel, finance and trade
  • Protecting the borders through effective interior immigration enforcement


Programs within ICE are aimed at better coordinating resources and manpower:


  • Border Enforcement Security Task Force
  • High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force
  • Joint Terrorism Task Force
  • Narcotics Task Force
  • Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force

National Security:

  • National Security Investigations Division
  • Joint Terrorism Task Force
  • Human Rights Violators & War Crimes Unit
  • Export Enforcement Coordination Center
  • Counterterrorism & Criminal Exploitation Unit
  • Counter-Proliferation Investigations Unit


ICE Operations

The two, major operations include:

  • Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO)
  • Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)

Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO)

Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) is responsible for enforcing the country’s immigration laws through the identification, apprehension, and removal of illegal aliens, with priority given to those individuals who pose a threat to national security, fugitives, and those who recently crossed the border.

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI)

Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is responsible for investigating domestic and international activities that are a result of the illegal movement of people and goods into and throughout the United States. Areas of investigation within the HSI include:

  • Immigration crime
  • Human rights violations
  • Human smuggling
  • Narcotics smuggling
  • Weapons and contraband smuggling
  • Financial crimes
  • Cyber-crimes
  • Export enforcement issues


Career Paths in Immigration and Customs Enforcement

ICE careers can be broken down into law enforcement/investigative careers and intelligence careers.

ICE Law Enforcement/Investigative Careers

  • HSI-Intelligence Officers: The ICE Homeland Security Investigations Intelligence Office (HSI-Intel) provides the agency’s law enforcement needs through intelligence gathering tools and cutting-edge technology. The HSI-Intel is also home to the National Incident Response Unit (NIRU), which is responsible for providing response services to national emergencies or critical events, such as natural disasters and terrorist attacks.
  • Immigration Enforcement Agents (IEA): IEAs are the uniformed officers responsible for immigration enforcement within the country. Their work involves identifying, investigating, arresting and deporting illegal aliens.
  • HSI Special Agents: HSI Special Agents, also called special agents, conduct criminal and civil investigations that involve the following:
    • National security threats
    • Terrorism
    • Drug smuggling
    • Child exploitation
    • Human trafficking
    • Illegal arms export
    • Identity theft
    • Commercial fraud
    • Financial crimes

There are also a number of investigative support positions within ICE, including:

  • Auditors
  • Criminal Research Specialists
  • Investigative Assistants
  • Mission Support Specialists
  • Technical Enforcement Officers

Intelligence Careers

The intelligence professionals of ICE are responsible for coordinating with the intelligence community, participating in major criminal investigations, and coordinate and monitor ICE intelligence operations:

  • Intelligence Research Assistant
  • Intelligence Research Specialist
  • Management and Program Analyst and Mission Support Specialist


How to Become an ICE Agent

Individuals who want to learn how to become an ICE agent must meet the DHS’s minimum requirements. Individuals qualifying at the GL-7 level as an ICE Criminal Investigator must have at least one year of specialized experience in criminal investigative principles and techniques applying laws associated with criminal/civil procedures, and/or preparing investigative reports.

Further, candidates for ICE Agent jobs must have either a bachelor’s degree with superior academic achievement (defined as a 3.5 GPA in courses related to the major and 3.0 GPA in all other courses or ranking in the upper one-third of the graduating college class) or at least one full year of graduate-level education beyond a bachelor’s degree.

The employment process for ICE Agent jobs include the completion of: an online application during times of open vacancy; an occupational questionnaire; a Special Agent test battery and writing sample assessment; a structured interview; and a personal interview.

As condition of employment, candidates for ICE Agent jobs must undergo a thorough background check and complete 22 weeks of training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC).

There are also a number of specialized programs for individuals seeking careers and leadership roles within ICE:

  • Recent Graduate Program:  The Recent Graduate Program, a one-year career development program, is designed for recent graduates from qualifying educational institutions. To qualify for the Recent Graduate Program, candidates must apply within two years of the completion of their degree or certification program. (Veterans have up to 6 years after completing their degree.) At the conclusion of the program, graduates may be placed into a permanent or term-appointment position with the agency.
  • Presidential Management Fellows Program: The Presidential Management Fellows Program is targeted at advanced degree candidates who want to learn how to become effective leaders. Graduate students who are expected to complete advanced degrees (master’s, doctoral, or law degrees) within the current academic year are eligible to apply to the program.

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