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Find a Person In ICE Detention

If you are looking for a person who may be held in immigration detention (ICE detention), you may be feeling frustrated and confused.  The starting point for finding someone in immigration detention is to check the ICE detainee locator.  Warning: ICE’s online detainee locator system is not user-friendly.  If you’ve tried using the system, and it cannot find a person, you may want to see our tips on using the ICE detainee locator system, below.   But first is an explanation of how to use ICE’s online detainee locator system.

How To Use ICE’s Online Detainee Locator System

The detainee locator system can be found here.

Search by Alien Number

The first way to search for someone is by alien number.

Families of detainees often run into trouble because they do not know a person’s alien number.  Here are a few easy steps for determining your friend or relative’s alien number.

  • If he or she is a green card-holder, or lawful permanent resident, then this number will be on their green card, or lawful permanent resident card.  The number will start with an “A” and be followed by 9 digits.
  • If the person does not have a green card, check any other documentation, such as a non-immigrant visa or any applications.
  • If the person is undocumented, or came here illegally, then you should contact an immigration detention facility where you think the person may be held.  Ask a receptionist or ICE officer for the person’s alien number.
  • If you cannot find the person’s alien number, try searching by biographical information.

When you select a country, make sure it’s the person’s country of birth, even if he or she is a citizen or national of another country.

Search by Biographical Information

The second way to search for someone is by name and country of birth.

Make sure that  you enter the person’s country of birth, not the country of citizenship or last country of residence.  Only enter the person’s date of birth if he or she has a common first and last name.

What To Do If You Can’t Find A Person In the Locator System

If you cannot find a person in the locator system, but you believe the person is in ICE custody, you should consider two possibilities.  First, the person may be in ICE custody, but ICE has yet to enter his name in the system.  This can be for several reasons.  One is that takes at least a few days for an ICE officer to complete the person’s paperwork.  Depending on the region, it can take several days.  Also, ICE will not enter a person’s information unless he signs a “release of information” form.  Many non-English-speaking immigrants will refuse to sign this form because the form is not translated for them.  Second, the person may be in the locator system, but you’re not inputting his name in exactly the same manner as he is listed.  In the next sub-section, we provide some tips on inputting a person’s name correctly in the locator system.

Tip#1: Input The Name In Various Formats

The ICE locator system looks for exact matches.  That means that what you type in the “name” boxes must match exactly what ICE has in its system.  This can be  tricky because you don’t know how your relative’s name was recorded.  With that in mind, here are a few ideas:

  • Try some common misspellings.
  • Try reversing the person’s first name and last name (e.g., “Jose Rivera” becomes “Rivera Jose”)
  • Try hyphenating the middle and last names (e.g., “Arturo Rivera Gonzales” becomes “Arturo Rivera-Gonzales”
  • Try taking the hyphen out of two last names and only using one (e.g. “Arturo Rivera-Gonzales” becomes “Arturo Gonzales”)
  • Try using a middle name as a first name (e.g., “Arturo Eduardo Gonzales” becomes “Eduardo Gonzales”)

It can be painstaking to try each of these possibilities, but doing so yields the best chance of locating a person who you believe is in the system.

Tip#2: Try Calling The Facilities In The State Where The Person Was Arrested

If you can’t find someone through the locator system, it’s time to start calling immigration detention facilities where you think your relative may be held.  Start with the facilities in the state where the person was first picked up by the authorities.  (The column on the right-hand side of this page has links to pages for every state that has detention facilities located there.)  Once you have called all facilities in this state, try calling immigration detention facilities in neighboring states.

Tip#3: Check Facilities In Neighboring States and Large States Near the US-Mexico Border

ICE often transfer immigration detainees to states where there is plenty of bed-space, as well as states near the Mexican border.  These moves can happen overnight.  That’s why — if you’re searching for a person who was recently arrested — it is important to look outside of the place of arrest.  It is not uncommon for immigrants arrested in New York and Illinois to be transferred to immigration facilities in Texas.

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