Immigration detention is the policy of holding individual persons suspected of illegal entry into the country (not having the proper documents of entry, such as a travel visa, passport, green card, or other important papers), staying in the United States after their visa has expired (i.e. “overstaying a visa”), and others who are subject to deportation and removal in detention until a decision can be made by the immigration authorities whether to grant them a visa or to deport them back to their country.

The United States government has the authority to detain undocumented immigrants even after their arrests are over. In 1996 Congress passed the mandatory detention law based on the notion that aliens with certain criminal histories as a group were reoffending and failing to appear in court. In short, the statute requires the government put immigrants in mandatory detention when they’re released from criminal custody.

Thus, this law allows and requires the government to lock up people, at any time, without a hearing until their deportation case is resolved. When this happens, loved ones may have a difficult time locating their loved one, as many people are jailed even though an immigration judge may find that they do not pose a flight risk or threat to the community.

Under this statute, there are cases where persons with minor possession offenses or traffic offenses, are being imprisoned many years after they’ve served their sentences or gone through rehabilitation.

Why is the Person Being Detained by Immigration?

As noted above, the purpose of the mandatory detention law was to detain immigrants the United States government believed to be a flight risk or threat to public safety. Mandatory detention ensures that the undocumented immigrant will appear before the Immigration Court on their court date.

There are many reasons why someone may be detained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). These reasons include, but are not limited to the following:

  • The immigrant has committed a crime or multiple crimes;
  • The immigrant arrived at the border without the proper documentation or visa prior to formally applying for asylum or refugee status;
  • The immigrant has an outstanding deportation order on record, pending or past due; or
  • The immigrant missed prior immigration hearing dates.

How Can I Locate Someone Who Has Been Detained by Immigration?

The best place loved ones can look to locate a detainee is on the ICE’s website. This website lists person based on their alien numbers (assigned when they are detained), green card numbers, and work permits. Alternatively, you may conduct a search for the person’s date of birth, country of birth, and their name as it  would appear in the ICE’s system.

Spelling mistakes may sometimes occur, so you may need to try different names or spellings of names. If the person has recently been detained, ICE’s system may not have been updated yet so you may need to try other means of locating them.

Further, if the person is under the age of 18, the system will not give you information on the person. In these two latter cases, you may have to contact the ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations field office nearest you in order to locate them.

Additionally, if the person is not locatable in the ICE system, then they may have been detained by the Department of Homeland Security or taken to a local  jail or correctional facility. In these cases, you may contact the Department of Homeland Security or local jail or correctional facilities explaining who you are and ask for information regarding their whereabouts.

However, please be wary of calling the Department of Homeland Security if you are uncertain that an undocumented immigrant is located there. If an undocumented immigrant was never detained in the first place, you may have tipped off the deportation officer of the undocumented immigrant’s whereabouts, and thus, get the undocumented immigrant deported.

In all of the above instances, another option is to enlist the assistance of a well qualified and experienced immigration attorney to help you locate the person and maintain lines of communication with the ICE and deportation officers. 

How Can I Free the Detainee from Immigration Detention?

It is important to act quickly in cases of mandatory deternation, as a detainee may be deported within a few days after their initial detention. This is especially true in cases where the detainee has been deported before or has an outstanding deportation order.

Although the detainee does not have the normal due process rights given in every other case in the United States for a hearing before being imprisoned, they do have the right to a bond hearing. When you locate the detainee, you may begin the process of freeing them by filing a motion for a bond hearing.

Once again an experienced immigration attorney may assist you with this process. All detainees have a right to a bond hearing to determine whether they are able to be released. If the release is granted at the bond hearing, a bond will be set and must be paid before the detainee may be released.

Do I Need to Hire an Attorney for Issues with Immigration Detention?

Although not required, if you need help in locating a detainee or if you or a loved one have any questions regarding the enforcement of immigration laws, it may be in your best interest to enlist the assistance of a licensed and experienced immigration lawyer.

An immigration attorney can help represent you before the federal agencies, assist you in locating the detainee, filing a motion for a bond hearing, ensure that you or your loved one’s rights are respected, and provide you with legal advice and guidance to ensure that you do not act irrationally or put the undocumented immigrant in harm’s way. The attorney can also represent you or your loved one if you need to appear in front of the Immigration Court for a hearing.