How to Locate Someone Who is Detained by ICE

There are several ways to locate someone after they've been detained by ICE. Generally, however, the best first step is talking to an attorney.

In the event that a friend or family member is detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), you may wonder how you can locate them and ensure their safety.

Warrants, raids, and other tactics used by ICE can be scary and chaotic on their own, but the detention of someone you know can make the process even more frightening.

Remember, however, that you’re not alone, and there are several ways for you to locate and help your detained loved one.

In this article, we’ll outline the process of locating someone who has been detained by ICE.

Note, however, that we strongly recommend that you speak with an attorney in the event a close friend or family member is detained by ICE.

ICE detention is a complex legal matter, and only an attorney who has reviewed your entire case can give you a true appraisal of what your next steps should be.

Preface: Why Does ICE Detain Immigrants?

Police officers arresting.

As a quick starting point, it’s important that you understand why ICE detains immigrants in the first place before you look into locating your detained loved one.

Put simply, ICE typically chooses to detain immigrants that they believe are “flight risks,” or who may move to another location as a way of avoiding removal proceedings, also commonly referred to as deportation proceedings.

ICE will also detain individuals that pose a threat to public safety (such as those convicted of serious crimes).

For this reason, ICE is more likely to detain (and less likely to release) individuals who:

  • Committed a serious crime (or multiple crimes);
  • Illegally entered the United States or otherwise avoided normal immigration procedures;
  • Currently have an outstanding order of removal (deportation); and/or,
  • Missed prior immigration hearings.

If your friend or family member falls under any of these categories you should speak to an attorney immediately, as it may be more difficult to locate them and/or schedule their release from ICE custody.

Find Out if They Were Actually Detained by ICE

White vintage alarm clock on blue-orange background.

Generally speaking, the first step in locating someone who has been detained by ICE is figuring out where they are in ICE’s deportation process.

Specifically, once ICE arrests or detains someone a complex legal process begins.

To start, ICE will process detained individuals at an ICE Detention or Removal Office or a similar short-term facility. This process will generally take up to 72 hours.

Once ICE finishes processing the detained individual they will usually transfer them to a different long-term location, usually without notifying family members or even lawyers.

For this reason, it’s critical that you take action as soon as possible after a loved one is detained by ICE, as after 72 hours it may become harder to locate them and coordinate their release.

Generally speaking, this can be done in one of two ways.

1. The Phone Call

The easiest way to locate a detained loved one is for them to use their phone call to tell you their location.

They should also communicate their A-Number and other relevant information at this time, if they happen to know it.

This information is essential for when you hire an attorney to negotiate their release, as the easiest way to locate a detained individual is through their A-Number.

2. Contacting an Attorney

In the event an individual is detained by ICE but doesn’t call, it’s wise to speak with an experienced immigration attorney as soon as possible.

ICE is usually hard to deal with in these situations, so an attorney with experience in navigating the system can be a key to your success.

Often, we’ll find that an individual has been detained by ICE, but failed to fully disclose their location or A-Number to their loved ones, either because they didn’t make their phone call or because they forgot to mention this information on the call.

In these cases, it may take some additional effort to find out where ICE sent your loved one.

Understand the System and Choose an Option

Screenshot of ICE Online Detainee Locator System taken 2021-04-05 at 1.25.42 PM
A screenshot of ICE’s Online Detainee Locator System, taken on April 5th, 2021.

Finding a detained friend or family member, especially in cases where you don’t know their A-Number, can be a difficult task.

In most cases, you’ll want to hire an attorney to do the searching for you, as ICE’s detainment system is complex and hard to navigate.

To summarize the process, however, there are a few different options for finding someone who’s been detained by ICE, but hasn’t reached out to communicate their current location.

Option 1: The ICE Online Detainee Locator System

The key tool that people use to locate detained individuals is the Online Detainee Locator System.

However, this database only contains information on detainees currently in custody, or those that have been released within the last 60 days.

You can read more about the Online Detainee Locator System on the ICE website.

However, the basics are as follows:

  • You can search the records of individuals who are currently in custody as well as individuals who have been released in the past 60 days.
  • The Online Detainee Locator System only contains records for individuals over the age of 18. Children are not included in this database.
  • You must know the individual’s full first name, last name and country of birth. These are required fields for searching the Online Detainee Locator System. You can skip this requirement if you know the individual’s A-Number.

Note, however, that the records in this database are often incomplete or inaccurate, and finding a specific person without their A-Number can be a difficult, if not impossible, task.

For this reason, many cases fall into the second option for finding someone who has been detained by ICE: just outright calling the field office to investigate.

Option 2: Call the Field Office and Local Detention Facilities

If the person you are looking for does not fit any of the categories to use the Online Detainee Locator System, or you simply can’t find them, the next step is to contact your local ICE field office (or to ask your attorney to do so on your behalf).

They will be able to let you know in which ICE facility the detainee is being held, if they are in one, and how to contact their deportation officer.

The person you are looking for may have been transferred to a local jail or correctional facility.

Because of this, you may also want to call the ones in the area. 

When you do, explain who you are, and ask for information on what’s going on, how to visit, and how to help.

Whenever you talk to ICE or other law enforcement officers, never mention the person’s citizenship or immigration status in the U.S.

Remember, anything you say can be used as evidence in the immigration court.


Application for asylum to USA concept with application form and USA flag on mexican serape

Locating someone who was detained by ICE can be a difficult affair, even if you have their A-Number.

In cases where your information is limited, this task can sometimes feel impossible.

For this reason, it’s highly recommended that you speak with an attorney immediately after a friend or loved one is arrested and/or detained by ICE.

Only an attorney with experience navigating the system can quickly and efficiently locate your missing loved one and give you the peace of mind you need to get through this difficult time.

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