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Investigative Programs


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ICE Agents examining evidence
ICE Agents entering through door
ICE Agent using a computer

HSI’s Investigative Programs Division oversees HSI’s diverse planning and operational initiatives. It also oversees the application of national law enforcement policy to HSI operations. Through collaboration with other HSI divisions, Investigative Programs ensures that its investigations meet HSI’s performance measures.

Border Enforcement Security Task Force

Border related crime poses significant risks to public safety and the national security of the United States. In recent years, the U.S. Southern Border has experienced a surge in violence due to competition between Mexican drug cartels and criminal smuggling organizations. Law enforcement agencies at the Northern border face similar challenges from transnational criminal organizations.

In response to this increase in violence and crime, HSI partnered with various partners to create the Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) initiative. The BEST units created under this initiative combat criminal organizations that pose serious threats to border security.

On Dec. 7, 2012, President Barack Obama signed the Jaime Zapata Border Enforcement Security Task Force Act into law. The law was named in memory of Jaime Zapata, an HSI special agent assigned to a BEST unit who died while on duty in Mexico. The law amends the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and authorizes the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security to establish BEST units, assign personnel to the program and to take actions to assist participating law enforcement agencies.

View Border Enforcement Security Task Force page for more information.

Cyber Crimes Center

The Cyber Crimes Center combats cybercrime and criminal exploitation of the Internet with state-of-the-art forensic technology. The center investigates large-scale cybercrime threats and provides expertise on cybercrime investigations to the field. It also uses global law enforcement networks to combat cybercrime threats.

The center manages HSI’s cybercrime strategy and investigative programs through the following units:

Cyber Crimes Unit oversees cyber-related investigations by focusing on criminal organizations using cyber capabilities to commit crimes. This includes training field offices on cyber technologies and providing expertise. The unit also manages the spread of investigative leads worldwide.

Child Exploitation Investigations Unit investigates producers and distributors of child pornography. It also investigates criminals who travel abroad to have sex with minors – a practice known as child sex tourism. The unit employs the latest technology and holds clandestine operations to apprehend violators.

Computer Forensics Unit oversees HSI’s Computer Forensics Program. The unit also promotes continuing education to ensure the field is up-to-date on current computer forensics techniques.

View the Cyber Crimes Center page for more information.

HSI Forensic Laboratory

The HSI Forensic Laboratory is the only U.S. crime laboratory specializing in the scientific authentication and research of travel and identity documents. The laboratory provides a broad range of forensic, intelligence and support services for ICE and other law enforcement agencies. These services range from processing fingerprints on evidence to comparing handwriting samples. View the HSI Forensic Laboratory page for more information.

Financial, Narcotics and Special Operations

Financial, Narcotics and Special Operations oversees investigations that focus on money laundering, bulk currency and narcotic and contraband smuggling. It also investigates other financial and trade-related crimes.

Financial, Narcotics and Special Operations consist of the following units and centers:

Contraband Smuggling Unit manages investigations related to border enforcement, narcotics and contraband smuggling. It also manages various information-sharing centers.

Illicit Finance and Proceeds of Crime Unit identifies methods criminals use to handle their illegal funds. The unit develops techniques to combat criminals trying to exploit vulnerabilities in U.S. financial systems. The unit also works with law enforcement partners, regulatory agencies and nongovernmental bodies by sharing information on criminal organizations.

National Bulk Cash Smuggling Center provides real-time intelligence and support to law enforcement partners combating bulk cash smuggling. This intelligence is collected by examining evidence at the border and during law enforcement encounters. View the Bulk Cash Smuggling page for more information.

National Targeting Center - Investigations investigates criminal organizations attempting to undermine border security efforts. These investigations include financial crimes, gang enforcement, intellectual property rights, counter proliferation and human trafficking/smuggling.

Trade Transparency Unit investigates crimes related to trade-based money laundering, customs fraud, contraband smuggling and other trade related crimes. By developing relationships with foreign counterparts, the unit provides investigative support for HSI and its global partners. View the Trade Transparency Unit page for more information.

Transnational Crime and Public Safety

Transnational Crime and Public Safety supports field investigations through training and capacity building. It also partners with government, nongovernment and industry organizations to combat criminal networks and sever their illicit pathways.

Transnational Crime and Public Safety consists of the following units:

Human Smuggling and Trafficking Unit investigates criminal travel operations. The unit coordinates human smuggling investigations under the umbrella of the Illicit Pathways Attack Strategy, ICE’s response to the president’s Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime. The unit also oversees ICE’s Trafficking in Persons Strategy, which focuses on the agency’s anti-human trafficking efforts. View the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center page for more information.

The Identity and Benefit Fraud Unit investigates criminals that threaten the integrity of America’s lawful immigration system. The unit also closes vulnerabilities in the immigration process through its Document and Benefit Fraud Task Forces and National Lead Development Center. The IBFU partners with federal, state and local law enforcement and government officials, motor vehicle departments and the secure printing industry to find novel ways to prevent, detect and investigate document and benefit fraud.

The Public Safety Unit combats the growth of transnational street gangs in the United States. The unit also builds law enforcement partnerships and helps field offices in using these partnerships. This includes gathering intelligence and forming anti-gang task forces to stop criminal enterprises.

Parole and Law Enforcement Programs Unit manages temporary parole authority for aliens admitted to the United States for law enforcement purposes. These paroles allow aliens to take part in legal proceedings when there is a benefit to the government. HSI is the clearinghouse for all significant public benefit parole applications from law enforcement agencies nationwide.

The unit also serves as HSI’s headquarters point of contact for all S-visa and witness security matters. The unit’s S-Visa and Witness Security Section processes applications in accordance with established policies and procedures and works closely with the Department of Justice, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Worksite Enforcement Unit oversees ICE’s worksite enforcement strategy, which focuses on protecting America’s critical infrastructure. The strategy’s goal is to reduce the demand for illegal employment and protect employment for the nation’s lawful workforce. The unit accomplishes this through the prosecution of employers, Form I-9 inspections, fines and the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers employee verification program. View the Worksite Enforcement page for more information.

Investigative Services

Investigative Services provides investigative support to ongoing criminal investigations. This includes providing technical assistance to undercover operations, managing polygraph operations and overseeing the HSI Forensic Laboratory.

Investigative Services consists of the following units and groups:

Asset Forfeiture Unit oversees HSI’s Asset Identification and Removal Groups and Seized Property Programs. The unit is also the primary liaison to the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Executive Office for Asset Forfeiture and the Treasury Forfeiture Fund.

ICE Tip Line is a venue through which the public and law enforcement agencies can report suspected violations of immigration and customs laws. Personnel assigned to the tip line take reports 24 hours-a-day, 365 days per year.

HSI Training Division (Academy) trains HSI special agents in wide array of criminal investigation techniques. The academy holds its training classes through the ICE Special Agent Training Program. The academy’s advanced curriculum allows HSI’s special agents to hone their skills through a wide array of investigative courses.

Victim Assistance Program and Management Oversight Unit (VAP/MOU) manages support services to ongoing investigations through its Management Oversight, and Victim Assistance Program.

Management Oversight coordinates HSI's responses to external audit reviews by the U.S. Government Accountability Office and the Department of Homeland Security. It also acts as liaison to ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility on internal misconduct investigations. The Victim Assistance Program supports victim-centered investigations.

Undercover Operations Unit (UOU) provides administrative support to an array of operational activities throughout HSI. Its Operations Section oversees the use of trade specific skills across all programmatic areas allowing HSI to combat criminal organizations. The UOU also coordinates HSI’s advanced training, including the accreditation of various certifications supporting field operations.

Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center

The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 established the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center. The center serves as a clearinghouse for information and analysis related to human trafficking. Subject matter experts in human trafficking, intelligence analysis, law enforcement collaboration and support, and diplomacy staff the center.

The center performs the following functions:

  • Facilitates broad dissemination of all-source information:
    The center integrates and disseminates raw and finished tactical, operational and strategic intelligence to member agencies’ operational components, U.S. policy makers and appropriate foreign partners, providing actionable leads for U.S. law enforcement agencies and timely, relevant information for policy makers.
  • Conducts operational and strategic analysis:
    The center prepares analytical products related to important aspects of human trafficking, including global trafficking organizations and networks; trafficker tactics, techniques, and procedures; and patterns, trends, and emerging issues related to human trafficking. The center’s products include fact sheets, intelligence notes, intelligence assessments and target packages about human trafficking organizations and networks. The center provides operational products to appropriate U.S. agencies for action and strategic products to law enforcement and policy makers.
  • Identifies issues for interagency coordination or attention:
    The center identifies issues related to human trafficking for referral to relevant federal, state, local and tribal partners for consideration and action, as appropriate.
  • Undertakes other select initiatives and provides analytical support:
    Where appropriate, and upon the request of member agencies or other stakeholders, the center undertakes other anti-trafficking analytical and information sharing initiatives.

Human Smuggling Cell (HSC)

The mission of the HSC is to develop a comprehensive threat picture designed to drive law enforcement and other disruption efforts against significant human smuggling organizations and networks. Human smuggling is defined as the importation of people into the United States involving deliberate evasion of immigration laws. This offense includes bringing illegal aliens into the United States, as well as the unlawful transportation and harboring of aliens already in the U.S.

The complexity of this problem demands a closely coordinated, comprehensive and proactive international and domestic strategy. To that end, ICE has developed a full range of investigation and enforcement methodologies to confront the problem at every point – in source and transit countries, on the seas, at our nation’s borders and ports, and in the interior of the United States.

Last Reviewed/Updated: 11/23/2020