What is Immigration and Customs Enforcement?

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) serves as the principal investigative agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). ICE was created through a 2003 merger that combined the investigative and interior enforcement forces of the U.S. Customs Service and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

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ICE has a clear mission, which is to “promote homeland security and public safety through the criminal and civil enforcement of federal laws” that are directed toward customs, trade, immigration, and border control. With an annual budget exceeding more than $5.7 billion and more than 20,000 employees throughout the United States and in 47 foreign countries, ICE has become a major federal law enforcement agency. It is organized into two, principal operating components:

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


Enforcement and Removal Operations

ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) is responsible for enforcing the immigration laws of the United States through its efficient enforcement and removal operations of illegal aliens, paying particular attention to fugitives and illegal aliens who pose a threat to national security, as well as individuals who recently crossed the border. The ERO is also responsible for managing aliens in custody and providing them with access to legal resources and advocacy groups.

In FY2012, the ERO removed 366,292 individuals, with 191,412 of those being convicted criminals.

Homeland Security Investigations

ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) is responsible for investigating terrorist and other criminal organizations who threaten national security. As such, the HSI is responsible for investigating immigration crime, human smuggling, financial crimes, and weapons and contraband smuggling, among others. This ICE division is also responsible for conducting investigations aimed at protecting critical infrastructure industries that are vulnerable to sabotage, attack or exploitation.

There are more than 10,000 employees, including 6,700 special agents, who work out of the HSI Division’s 26 field offices.

There are 6 divisions within the HSI:

  • Domestic Operations
  • Intelligence
  • International Affairs
  • Mission Support
  • National Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Coordination Center
  • National Security Investigations Division


The HSI’s Investigations Intelligence Office (HSI-Intel) is an intelligence force that uses a number of investigation techniques and cutting-edge technology to support the enforcement needs of executive leadership and operational field units within ICE.

HSI-Intel is home to the National Incident Response Unit (NIRU), which ensures that ICE is prepared to response to national emergencies, such as natural disasters and terrorist attacks. In the event of a national emergency, NIRU would serve as the central communications center (nerve center) between ICE and local, state and federal agencies.

International Affairs

The Office of International Affairs is responsible for enhancing national security through coordinated investigations of transnational criminal organizations. Its operations include investigating, disrupting, and dismantling these criminal organizations that engage in the smuggling of people, weapons, money, narcotics, and even sensitive technologies. It also investigates threats that these criminal organization pose to commercial trade, travel, and financial systems through:

  • Trade fraud
  • Intellectual property theft
  • Diversion of military weapons
  • International money laundering
  • Immigration fraud
  • Forced child labor
  • Sexual exploitation of children, including child sex tourism

National Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Coordination Center

The National Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Coordination Center works to combat global intellectual property theft. Working as a task force, the IPR partners with a number of member agencies and participates in government-industry collaborations that support its ongoing enforcement initiatives. The IPR shares information, develops initiatives, coordinates enforcement activities, and conducts investigations related to IP theft.

The IPR uses a multi-layered approach to combat IP theft, which includes:

  • Dismantling criminal organizations involved in counterfeit products
  • Conducting inspections that keep pirated and counterfeit goods out of the U.S. supply chain and markets
  • Providing training for domestic and international law enforcement

National Security Investigations Division

The National Security Investigations Division (NSID) is responsible for identifying, disrupting, and dismantling transnational criminal and terrorist organizations that threaten the security of the country. The NSID is organized into two programs:

  • The Counter-Proliferation Investigations Program oversees a number of investigative activities associated with U.S. law regarding the export of military items, firearms, and ammunition, as well as exports to sanctioned or embargoed countries.
  • The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) acts as a bridge for government organizations that have information on non-immigrants who seek to enter the United States for educational reasons.  The SEVP manages schools and non-immigrant students in the F and M visa classifications and their dependents. Partnering with the Department of State, the SEVP utilizes the Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) to track and monitor schools, exchange visitor programs, and certain non-immigrants while visiting the U.S. and participating in the U.S. educational system.

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