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History of ICE


Despite U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s relatively young age, its functional history – encompassing the broad roles, responsibilities and federal statutes now carried out and enforced by the men and women of ICE – predates the modern birth of the agency by more than 200 years.

This informative video describes the conditions that gave rise to legislation authorizing the collection of import taxes and customs fees first envisioned by founding father Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s first secretary of the Treasury. It traces the remarkable development of the country throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, including the essential role of immigration and the evolving laws and regulations that governed it through a period of rapid growth and expansion.  

In March 2003, the Homeland Security Act set into motion what would be the single-largest government reorganization since the creation of the Department of Defense. One of the 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.

Congress granted ICE a unique combination of civil and criminal authorities to better protect national security and public safety in answer to the tragic events on 9/11. Leveraging those authorities, ICE's primary mission is to promote homeland security and public safety through the criminal and civil enforcement of federal laws governing border control, customs, trade and immigration.

ICE now has more than 20,000 law enforcement and support personnel in more than 400 offices in the United States and around the world. The agency has an annual budget of approximately $8 billion, primarily devoted to three operational directorates – Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) and Office of the Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA). A fourth directorate – Management and Administration – supports the three operational branches to advance the ICE mission.

Updated: 01/29/2021