History of ICE

It’s a story that began in our nation’s earliest days…

The roles and responsibilities now carried by the men and women who compose the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement workforce were conceived and delineated by our founding fathers, including Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. 

The passage of the Tariff Act of 1789, the first major piece of legislation enacted in the United States after the ratification of the United States Constitution, had two purposes. It was to protect manufacturing industries developing in the new nation and raise revenue for our fledgling federal government, struggling with debts incurred throughout the American Revolution.

As we approach the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks against the United States, take a few moments to discover a functional history of ICE which is only now being told.

It's a story that changed seventeen years ago…

With its passage in November 2002, the Homeland Security Act set into motion what would be the single-largest government reorganization since the creation of the Department of Defense. Opening its doors in March 2003, one of the component agencies in the new Department of Homeland Security was the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, now known as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE.

ICE was granted a unique combination of civil and criminal authorities to better protect national security and strengthen public safety in response to the deadly attacks perpetrated on 9/11. Leveraging those authorities, ICE has become a powerful and sophisticated federal law enforcement agency.

Throughout 2020, ICE is looking back at its achievements and history through a series of stories, images and milestones, focusing on significant events and accomplishments, one year at a time, beginning with 2003.

September 11, 2001: 19 terrorists hijack commercial airliners and carry out massive attack on the United States

Terrorists take advantage of security weaknesses in our aviation system to kill nearly 3,000 innocent men, women and children, including citizens of more than 90 countries. It is the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil.

November 2002: Homeland Security Act

The Homeland Security Act of 2002 is introduced in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and subsequent mailings of anthrax spores. The act is co-sponsored by 118 members of Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush Nov. 2002. The Homeland Security Act creates the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the new cabinet-level position of secretary of homeland security.

2003 - 2005


March 2003: U.S. Department of Homeland Security officially begins operations

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's mission is to prevent terrorism and enhance security; secure and manage U.S. borders; enforce and administer U.S. immigration laws; safeguard and secure cyberspace; and ensure resilience to disasters. March 1, 2003, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is created through the integration of all or part of 22 different federal agencies and programs into a unified, integrated department. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security absorbed the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the U.S. Customs Service and assumed their duties. In doing so, it divided the enforcement and services functions of the two legacy agencies and created three new agencies: Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services and Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Michael J. Garcia nominated as the assistant secretary for Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

In March 2003 President Bush appoints Michael J. Garcia as the assistant secretary of homeland security for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and he is unanimously confirmed by the Senate, Nov. 2003. Garcia served as Acting Commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service from Dec. 2002 to Feb. 2003 before it was integrated into the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. From Aug. 2001 to Nov. 2002, he was the top federal enforcer of dual-use export control laws as the assistant secretary of commerce for export enforcement.


  • Detention and Removal Operations establishes the first eight Fugitive Operations Teams. They arrest 1,900 illegal aliens.
  • Five of the agency’s “Most Wanted” criminal aliens are captured by Detention and Removal Operations officers in less than a month.
  • The first special agent training graduation is held, marking the graduation of the first class of special agents.
  • Office of Investigations launches Cornerstone, an outreach initiative to identify vulnerabilities in financial systems through which criminals launder their illicit proceeds.
  • Office of Investigations launches Operation Predator, an initiative to protect children from sexual predators by targeting child pornographers, child-sex tourists and people involved in all levels of child pornography.
  • A tip line is launched to collect tips in support of Operation Predator.
  • The Office of the Principal Legal Advisor secures a removal order against Juan Emilio Aboy, a known Cuban spy.


  • The National Fugitive Operations Program adds 10 additional Fugitive Operations Teams to bring the number of teams to 18.
  • The Alternatives to Detention Program is established. This tool uses technology and case management to increase compliance with release conditions and facilitate alien compliance with final orders while allowing aliens to remain in their communities.
  • The Northern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force moves into the Cyber Crimes Center.
  • The General Counsel Electronic Management System, a web-based case management tool, is deployed in all 26 Office of the Principal Legal Advisor’s Chief Counsel Offices.


  • The agency becomes a board member and the primary U.S. law enforcement representative of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private industry sector partners working together to combat online child sexual abuse.
  • The National Fugitive Operations Program adds 26 additional Fugitive Operations Teams to bring the total number of teams to 44. The teams arrest 7,959 illegal aliens.
  • Office of Investigations, in partnership with the U.S. Department of State, begins conducting cross-border, financial investigation trainings around the world.
  • The Border Enforcement Security Task Force is created.
  • The case for removal of Kelbessa Negewo, who used fraud to obtain asylum, permanent residency and naturalization in the U.S., is secured through the work of Atlanta’s Office of the Principal Legal Advisor.
  • The agency launches Operation Community Shield after a threat assessment by field offices identified Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) as one of the largest and most violent street gangs in the country.

2006 - 2008


January 2006: Julie L. Myers is appointed assistant secretary for Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

In Jan. 2006 President George Bush appointed Julie L. Myers as assistant secretary of homeland security for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Prior to her appointment, Myers served as special assistant to the president for presidential personnel. Before that, she served as assistant secretary for export enforcement at the Department of Commerce. In that role, Myers supervised a nationwide law enforcement agency that specialized in export control violation, both civil and criminal.


  • Detention and Removal Operations initiates the Detention Enforcement and Processing of Offenders by Remote Technology Center in Chicago to serve as the designated centralized interview and processing site for convicted criminal aliens incarcerated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
  • The Fugitive Operations Support Center is established to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the National Fugitive Operations Program.
  • The Electronic Monitoring Program, an alternative to detention is initiated.
  • The 287(g) program, which allows a state or local law enforcement entity to enter into a partnership with ICE to perform immigration law enforcement functions within their jurisdictions, is created.
  • The Office of the Principal Legal Advisor headquarters provides 40 hours of customs law training for all of its offices.
  • Operation Wagon Train, one of the largest worksite enforcement operations in U.S. history, is launched.

January 29, 2007: ICE removes Majid Al-Massari

ICE removed Majid Al-Massari, 35, a native and citizen of Saudi Arabia belonging to an undesignated terrorist organization. Al-Massari was ordered removed June 30, 2005, and was removed Jan. 29, 2007. At the time of his arrest, Al-Massari was a Seattle area computer security specialist who used his cyber skills to engage in terrorist activities. He purposely used his computer and communications skills to advance the terrorist goals of the Committee for Defense of Legitimate Rights and incite hatred against other groups of people. Al-Massari moderated an Internet chatroom for members of the group and posted Al Qaeda's weekly magazine at his site.

March: Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement renamed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security changes the name of the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

June: Detention and Removal Operations assumes programmatic responsibility of the Criminal Alien Program from the Office of Investigations

Detention and Removal Operations assumes responsibility for the Criminal Alien Apprehension Program June 1. ICE aims to arrest and remove criminal aliens by securing a final order of removal before they are released from prison or jail. Identifying and processing incarcerated criminal aliens, prior to release from jails and prisons, decreases or eliminates the time spent in ICE custody, which reduces the overall cost to the federal government.

September: ICE implements the electronic travel document system, significantly reducing the amount of time required for partner countries to issue a travel document

Sept. 1, 2007 ICE launches their electronic travel document system, a system used to review travel document requests and issue travel documents electronically.

October: The National Fugitive Operations Program, with significant assistance from the Fugitive Operations Support Center, reduces the nation's fugitive alien population for the first time

As of Oct. 1, 2007, ICE's fugitive case backlog consisted of less than 595,000 fugitive aliens, which was approximately 38,000 fewer fugitives than the population recorded Oct. 1, 2006.

ICE established the first Fugitive Operations Teams in 2003 to expand the agency's efforts to locate, arrest and remove fugitives from the United States.

December: Value of counterfeit or pirated merchandize seizures increases by more than 20% compared to 2006 totals

Although the total number of seizures dropped from 14,675 in 2006 to 13,657 in 2007, the total value of those seizures increased from $155,369,236 to $196,754,377.


July: National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center opens in Virginia

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement-led Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center co-locates, for the first time, the regulators and law enforcement agencies that work to protect public safety and national security by stopping the importation of counterfeit, substandard and tainted products and the theft of intellectual property. The IPR Center's early partners include U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Department of Commerce, Health and Human Services' Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Justice's Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

November: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement opens new headquarters

Employees and guests celebrate U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's move to a new headquarters building, Potomac Center North, in southwest Washington, D.C. This new building gives the growing agency the space and resources it needs to fulfill its expanding mission.


  • The Criminal Alien Program initiates the Violent Criminal Alien Section to enforce violations of criminal immigration law found through the enforcement activities of Detention and Removal Operations.
  • Secure Communities, an initiative to modernize the process used in identification and removal begins planning its first activations.
  • ICE signs a memorandum of understanding with Vietnam, allowing for the repatriation of Vietnamese citizens who entered the United States on or after July 12, 1995.
  • The Office of the Principal Legal Advisor facilitates the creation of the ICE Suspension and Debarment Program.
  • An ICE investigation leads to the conviction of Chuckie Taylor, an American citizen and the son of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, who was charged with five counts of torture, conspiracy to torture and two federal firearm offenses for his role in the torture and murder of several victims in Liberia during his father’s regime.
  • ICE’s Operation Devil Horns leads to the indictment of twenty-two individuals in the San Francisco Bay Area on federal racketeering and other charges arising from their participation in the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang.
Updated: 01/26/2021