ICE Immigration Raids: A Primer

There are widespread reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted immigration roundups in a number of communities across the country last week (February 6-10). Just how many ICE arrests of individuals who were picked up directly from the community in which they lived is not as yet clear. Immigration officials were quoted as stating that this was just part of "routine" immigration enforcement actions. For example, according to the New York Times, ICE contended that "the immigration roundups that people were seeing did not represent an increased tempo" but simply usual operations by its "fugitive teams constantly working to bring in those wanted on a variety of immigration offenses."

Contrary to the agency's statement, President Trump said the current activities represented a "crackdown." He tweeted: "The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise. Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!"

To help gauge the extent a large-scale enforcement surge has indeed begun, it is useful to examine the pace at which ICE arrested individuals in the past. Coming up with some clear numbers to answer that question is the focus of this report.

Just How Many Arrests Does ICE Make In A Week?

According to ICE, 65,332 individuals apprehended by ICE officers were removed during FY 2016[1]. This works out to roughly 1,250 per week.

However, only a small part of this weekly average of 1,250 apprehensions and removals last year represented ICE arrests of individuals who were picked up directly from the community in which they lived. For simplicity, we refer to this kind of arrest as "community arrests." They are arrests made through ICE raids, or when ICE agents knock on someone's door seeking to arrest the person that lives there.

Most ICE apprehensions were not these kinds of community arrests. Instead, most of these estimated weekly 1,250 ICE apprehensions happened when ICE assumed custody of individuals held by another law enforcement agency. Many of these apprehensions occurred when ICE took individuals into custody from the prison or jail facility where they had been serving time for their criminal conviction. This was coordinated through ICE's Criminal Alien Program (CAP).

Still others were transferred to ICE CAP custody after they were picked up and fingerprinted by local law enforcement agencies on a non-immigration matter. ICE became aware of these arrests since all fingerprints local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies submit to the FBI are now automatically passed along to ICE. ICE checks these against its records to see if the individual may be deportable.

Once these transfers from other law enforcement agencies are set aside, just how many remaining apprehensions were made directly by ICE through operations it refers to as "targeted enforcement actions"? Preliminary estimates from data on those deported suggest that during the concluding years of the Obama Administration less than 300 individuals were arrested each week from their place of work, where they lived, or other places they may have been when found by ICE fugitive teams and other ICE components that focus on making community arrests[2]. See Figure 1.

Figure 1. Weekly Number of ICE Apprehensions of Individuals, FY 2016

This estimate was pieced together from a variety of case-by-case records on both apprehensions and removals that were analyzed by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. The data was obtained by TRAC from ICE in response to hundreds of Freedom of Information Act requests, appeals, and a successful lawsuit.

As ICE explained in discussing last week's arrests, the lion's share of all ICE community arrests are conducted by its National Fugitive Operations Program (NFOP). Currently 129 ICE fugitive operations teams carry out the agency's "efforts to locate, arrest, and reduce the population of at-large removable aliens within the U.S." A primary focus of these teams are individuals who previously have been ordered deported but still are believed to be in the country. See ICE description of this program.

Analysis by TRAC of ICE case-by-case records on deportations attributed no more than 250 per week on average to removals by ICE fugitive operations teams. This would represent about one in five out of this 1,250 weekly total of ICE apprehensions and removals[3].

While ICE fugitive teams appear to be the primary source of community arrests, they are not the only source. Arrests from the agency's "alternatives to detention"(ATD) and its "non-detained docket control" (NDD) programs also account for some of ICE removals. Under these two programs individuals typically have to report to ICE at periodic intervals[4]. Because individuals in these two programs are not being held in ICE detention, arrests by these programs are additional sources of community arrests.

Most of the individuals in these two programs are in removal proceedings and their cases have not been decided. Once their case is decided, and if they are ordered deported, ICE takes them into custody to carry out the removal order[5]. Their arrest is then typically recorded as an ATD or NDD program arrest.

TRAC's analysis of case-by-case records indicated that only a relatively small number of community arrests occurred through these latter two programs. During FY 2016, around 10 removals per week were individuals arrested under its ATD program. An additional 25 arrests on average per week were of individuals from its NDD program.

An Examination of ICE Targeted Enforcement Actions under Obama

Recent case-by-case records of arrests carried out by ICE of individuals who had outstanding removal orders provides a more detailed look at ICE targeted enforcement actions in past years. Out of these apprehensions, those by fugitive teams targeting individuals because of existing removal orders averaged about 110 each week.

Given the average of 250 removals per week attributed to ICE fugitive operations, this would suggest that upwards of 140 removals in an average week were ancillary arrests by ICE fugitive teams - that is, individuals who were arrested because they were encountered while ICE was looking for someone else. However, it is possible that fugitive teams may on occasion also target individuals without deportation orders. This would make the ratio of ancillary pickups to total arrests by these teams somewhat smaller[6].

These averages, however, do not reveal whether periodic surges in fugitive arrests also occurred during the Obama Administration. For this, we need to examine how daily arrests varied from week to week. Figure 2 plots the day-by-day arrests of all individuals with outstanding removal orders, while Figure 3 shows that portion of these arrests by fugitive teams. Available data cover the period between October 1, 2014 and November 30, 2016. In Figure 2 covering all such arrests, there is a clear weekly cycle evident in the plot with few arrests during weekends and holidays, and arrests concentrated during regular workdays. On weekdays the median number of daily arrests was 148, and the average was 150. On weekends and holidays the median number of daily arrests was only 9 and the average was 12.

Figure 2. Total Daily ICE Apprehensions of Individuals With Outstanding Removal Orders, October 1, 2014 - November 30, 2016.
(Click for larger image)

There is only a single surge in arrests evident in this plot. On October 30, 2015 a total of 534 arrests were recorded. On the previous day, 221 arrests occurred, and then after a weekend respite an additional 250 arrests took place. Only 17 out of the 534 on October 30 were women, all the rest were men. None were children. So this does not correspond with "raids" ICE was reported to have conducted to pick up and deport women and children with outstanding removal orders.

Apart from this, there does not appear to be any other occasion where a surge occurred over this entire period. Indeed, the weekly pattern is surprisingly steady with daily arrests during workdays seldom falling below 100 or rising above 200. And fifty percent of the time workday arrests fell in a tight range, only varying between 134 and 164 per day. Of course, this should not be too surprising since most of these arrests were by Criminal Alien Program teams taking custody of individuals with outstanding removal orders from other law enforcement agencies. With this one exception, there appeared to be a fairly constant intake over the entire period.

However, Figure 3 which just shows the portion of these arrests by fugitive operations teams shows a somewhat different pattern. Daily apprehensions were, of course, much smaller but they don't reveal such a regular weekday - weekend cycle. While it is true that on weekdays, median daily arrests were 19, they ranged on some days from a low of only one or two arrests to a high of 64 arrests. On weekends and holidays, while the median was only 2, there were sometimes as many as 71 arrests on a single day. This was higher than the maximum number of arrests that occurred during any weekday.

Figure 3. Daily Apprehensions of Individuals With Outstanding Removal Orders by ICE Fugitive Operations Teams, October 1, 2014 - November 30, 2016.
(Click for larger image)

While day-to-day variability was much higher as might be expected with fugitive operations arrests, they were rarely over 40 on any single day. The most striking surge occurred during a period of four days starting Sunday, March 1, 2015 when there were 71 arrests; Monday, March 2, with 58 arrests; Tuesday, March 3, with 64; and Wednesday, March 4, with 38 arrests[7]. During this period a total of 217 adult males and 14 adult females were arrested. There was only one other occasion during this entire period when arrests were above 40 for two consecutive days. This occurred with 42 arrests on Tuesday, September 20, 2016, and 44 arrests on the following day.


This report breaks down the numbers on ICE apprehensions to provide a better picture of the role of ICE fugitive operations as compared with other components of ICE. Obtaining figures by these separate enforcement units in the future will be valuable in monitoring ICE enforcement under the Trump Administration. This is because the identity of ICE personnel taking individuals into custody results in important differences in how apprehensions take place, where they occur, and who is being targeted.

TRAC also believes the above figures presenting longer term trends will provide a useful baseline against which arrests by fugitive operation teams and other components of ICE can be compared under the new Trump Administration.

TRAC is working on a further report that focuses on the characteristics of individuals arrested by ICE fugitive teams during the Obama years.


[1] These are what ICE terms "interior removals." ICE also processes and deports a much larger number of individuals turned over to it for detention by Border Patrol agents and by Customs and Border Protection officers stationed at regular ports of entry.

[2] This does not consider arrests by ICE's Criminal Alien Program. However, CAP's primary focus is on: "The identification and processing of incarcerated criminal aliens, before release from jails and prisons" rather than arresting individuals who are not already in custody.

[3] Because we are looking at removal data, this may underestimate the number of actual arrests to the extent ICE fugitive teams arrest individuals who subsequently are released from ICE custody and not deported. However, not all fugitive operations arrests are community arrests. Fugitive teams locate some individuals only after they have been arrested by someone else. In those cases, the team may simply take over their custody from another law enforcement agency.

[4] ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations [ERO] describes its programs as follows. "Those who are released from secure custody constitute ERO's 'nondetained' docket. Every case, whether 'detained' or 'non-detained,' remains part of ERO's caseload and is actively managed until it is formally closed. ERO processes and monitors detained and non-detained cases as they move through immigration court proceedings to conclusion. At that point, ERO executes the judge's order."

[5] There are individuals under the NDD program, however, already with outstanding removal orders. ICE may have chosen not to deport these individuals because there were countervailing considerations. Among these considerations was the 2014 policy under President Obama setting enforcement priorities. Individuals who had been ordered removed prior to January 1, 2014, and those who had no criminal record or had only been convicted of minor offenses or violations involving their immigration status were not priorities for removal.

These priorities under former President Obama are no longer those of the current Trump Administration. While Trumps claims to be focusing on criminals, under the Executive Order signed January 25, 2017, so-called "criminals" are defined so broadly that the term can be applied to cover almost any undocumented immigrant.

[6] According to ICE, its tracking is based upon the program of the individual who recorded the arrest in their database, not the ICE unit that carried out the actual arrest. For example, an officer recording the arrest may be assigned to a fugitive operations team but be temporarily assisting as part of a criminal alien program (CAP) operation. That arrest would be recorded as a fugitive operations arrest because the officer is assigned to that program, although actually carried out through the CAP program. And vice-versa, if a CAP enforcement officer recorded an arrest that had actually been carried out by fugitive operations, it would be recorded as a CAP apprehension.

[7] ICE called this operation, "Check Point." The press announcement for "Check Point" claimed a substantially higher number of arrests than those reflected in the available case-by-case data of individuals arrested by fugitive teams on outstanding removal orders. It is possible that the figures in the press announcement also included the large number of individuals ICE assumes custody of each week from law enforcement agencies around the country as part of its normal operations rather than limiting its counts to actual community arrests.