The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Like the DHS, ICE was formed in the wake of the 11 September, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, as part of a massive reorganization campaign which was designed to protect the country from future attacks. ICE agents have a wide variety of duties under the law, and they can be found serving in an assortment of locations around the world, as part of the “layered” approach to American security used by the Department of Homeland Security.
When ICE was formed, it incorporated the investigative branches of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), US Customs and Border Protection, and the Federal Protective Service. In addition to drawing from these law enforcement services, ICE also works closely with American intelligence organizations such as the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation, and agents have far-reaching investigative abilities which have been criticized by some individuals concerned about civil liberties.
ICE often makes headlines due to its involvement in the investigation and deportation of illegal immigrants. ICE raids are common in urban areas where large illegal populations are suspected, and they have sometimes attracted negative attention due to hasty work, which sometimes results in the detainment or deportation of legal citizens or resident aliens of the United States. However, ICE isn't just about illegal immigration.
The agency also protects American borders, by seeking out and identifying weaknesses, inspecting cargoes carried across American borders, and investigating drug and human trafficking rings which cross into or out of the United States. ICE agents also attempt to identify and remove terrorist threats, dismantle gangs, investigate workers at American ports, protect federal buildings, and monitor American borders for signs that American technology and munitions are being illegally exported. ICE also protects intellectual copyrights, and maintains forensic document examination and cybercrimes centers which are used by ICE agents as well as representatives from other agencies.
ICE is headed by a sub-Secretary, who reports to the Secretary of Homeland Security. Some ICE actions have been criticized, because they appear to overstep certain bounds. In 2008, for example, ICE made headlines when it was announced that ICE officials would be able to inspect the personal computers of people traveling into the United States for signs of violation of the United States Code. Privacy advocates pointed out that such searches would be of questionable legality, and they could potentially compromise the security of sensitive data such as client information, secret projects, and other information which people and organizations would rather keep private.