Preparing for ICE Raids Part 4: How to Find a Family Member Arrested by ICE

Image courtesy of the Department of Homeland Security

This is our fourth article in our series Getting Ready for An ICE Raid.

When Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests someone, it may seem to family and friends that the person has disappeared into thin air. ICE does not leave a note saying that the person was arrested and taken to a specific detention facility. Even if neighbors tell a family that ICE took away a loved one, the family is still left wondering where the immigrant is being held. At community meetings, I am frequently asked “How can my children find out where I am being held if I am arrested?”

One way to find out where the person is detained is through ICE’s Online Detainee Locator website.

However, there are problems with the Detainee Locator. New detainees may not appear in the system as soon as they are taken to a detention center. There is often a lag time in data entry, so it may take some time for the system to be up to date. The search will fail if the names are misspelled. Even so, this is a good place to start a search.

If you are detained and you want your loved one to be able to locate you, you need to make sure they have the following information:

  1. Your legal first name
  2. Your legal last name
  3. Your date of birth
  4. Your country of birth
  5. If you have had contact with Homeland Security before and have been assigned an “A Number” or “Alien Number” make sure they have that as well.

This sounds simple, but I have found that family members often don’t know the formal names of the detained person. They know the person by a nickname or other affectionate name. Also, people are often unaware of the date of birth of a family member.

Make sure you hold a family meeting to discuss how to search for someone if ICE stages a raid. If you are at risk of being arrested by ICE, write down your full legal name, your date of birth and country of birth, and your Alien Number if you have one.

If a family member is arrested, go to the Detainee Locator and type in the person’s Alien Number if you know it, and the person’s country of birth in the appropriate search boxes. If you don’t know the Alien Number, scroll down to where the site allows you to search by name. Put in the first and last names and the country of birth without adding the birth date. If you don’t get any matches, try several combinations of the person’s name. For example, if the person’s name is Jose Jesus Santos Avila, try Jose Santos, Jose Avila, Jesus Santos, and Jesus Avila as search term combination. The detainee may be held under any of those names.

A key to successfully locating a detained person is for the whole household to come together and have a plan. Part of the plan is sharing formal identity information in case of separation.

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.