The United States government agencies responsible for detaining individuals under immigration law are CBP and ICE. The risk of detention increases for those who have previously been deported, have a criminal history, try to enter the US without inspection, or are single adults traveling alone. The length of detention depends on various factors, including the type of detention and eligibility for immigration relief. The conditions in both CBP and ICE detention centers can be difficult. Everyone is entitled to speak to a lawyer while detained. A person can search for local lawyers through various resources. To locate someone who has been detained by ICE, use the ICE Online Detainee Locator System or contact the ICE ERO Detention Reporting and Information Line.

The article provides basic information about immigration detention in the United States. It explains which U.S. agencies can detain people under immigration law, the factors that increase the risk of detention, and the potential duration of detention. It also discusses the conditions in detention centers, the rights of detained individuals, and how to find out if a family or friend is in immigration detention. Additionally, it offers resources for legal assistance and provides contact information for further inquiries.

Which U.S. Agencies Can Detain People Under Immigration Law?

Both CBP and ICE are both part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and may detain people under immigration law in the United States:

  • U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is responsible for admitting individuals into the United States at ports of entry and enforcing U.S. law at the border. CBP can detain anyone who seeks entry into the United States at a port of entry. CBP facilities include la hielera and la perrera, but there are also other facilities where migrants might be detained for longer periods.
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is responsible for enforcing U.S. immigration law throughout the entire country. ICE can arrest and detain people inside the U.S. who are without immigration status or who have immigration violations.

Will I be Detained?

There is always a risk of detention when approaching the U.S. border, whether that is presenting at a U.S. port of entry or crossing the border without inspection. 

The risk of detention increases for those who:

  1. have previously been deported from the United States; 
  2. have a criminal history in any country; 
  3. try to enter the U.S. without inspection; and/or 
  4. are single adults traveling alone. 

The risk also increases for those who present at the border without an appointment. However, having an appointment to present at the border does not guarantee full protection against detention, although it should make detention less likely. 

If I am Detained, How Long Will I Be Detained For?

It is difficult to predict how long people can be detained, as this depends on various factors, including what kind of detention they are in (whether it is ICE or CBP detention), whether or not they are eligible for immigration relief, and any immigration or criminal history that they have in the United States.   

When someone is detained near the border, they will be taken to CBP detention first. CBP may deport individuals in their custody, hold individuals who are asylum seekers while they attend credible fear interviews, or transfer individuals to an ICE detention center.  Someone can be detained for about two weeks by CBP before they are either returned to their home country–or to Mexico for some migrants from Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua, or Venezuela. People can also be transferred to another facility run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after being detained by CBP. People held in ICE custody are often in full removal proceedings, which can take months or even years, as compared to expedited removal proceedings which are much faster.

ICE has the authority to release individuals, but they can also keep a person detained (in their custody) while they are in immigration proceedings before an immigration judge and keep them until a final decision is made on their immigration case. (Immigration cases can take several months.) Most immigration courts review cases for those in detention more quickly than cases for those who are not detained, but a person may still remain in detention for several months depending on if they are eligible for release by ICE, how quickly their immigration hearings are scheduled, and whether they have any pending appeals if their application is denied.

What Happens in Immigration Detention?

Most people in immigration detention will be placed in the accelerated deportation process called expedited removal. As part of this process, if they want to remain in the United States, they will first have to be interviewed about their asylum claim in something called a credible fear interview. Expedited removal often happens in CBP detention facilities.

The conditions in both CBP and ICE detention centers can be very difficult. If someone is in immigration detention, they will likely have very limited access to medicine, showers, and privacy, among other things. Those in CBP custody may not even have access to beds and will be expected to sleep on the floor. 

It is common for officers in immigration detention to confiscate people’s belongings, such as phones and documents, when entering the country. Those crossing into the United States should always write down and memorize the phone numbers of anyone they may need to contact if detained. While in immigration detention, people should still be able to prepare their application(s) for immigration relief, speak to an attorney and their family, and, if eligible, ask to be released. 

What Rights do People Have if they are Detained?

Everyone is entitled to speak to a lawyer privately while they are detained, although the US government will not pay for an immigration attorney for people detained. If a person is in a CBP facility, they might only be able to contact a lawyer over the phone. In an ICE facility, a person who has a lawyer should be able to speak with them over the phone and through an in-person jail visit. 

It can be extremely difficult for individuals to find a lawyer while in CBP custody due to limited access to communication with family members and how quickly they may have an interview with an immigration officer. Family members can see the list of free legal service providers who may be able to help someone who is detained by CBP at

If a person is in an ICE facility, they can also speak to non-profit legal service providers. These organizations may visit the detention centers to provide information and assistance free of charge to those who are detained, and they often provide resources and orientations on how to request release from ICE custody.  Although these types of providers often cannot provide those who are detained with their own individual lawyers to represent them, but they can sometimes refer people to other organizations and lawyers for representation. Speaking to a lawyer is the best way for someone to understand their options to get out of detention.

If a person is detained in an ICE detention facility, they can search for local lawyers through the following resources:

  1. The EOIR List of Pro Bono Legal Service Providers, separated by state and immigration court, available at: This list also shows which local non-profit organization runs the Legal Orientation Program (LOP) in each detention facility. In most detention facilities, the LOP can be reached by dialing 2150# from inside the detention center. Please note that LOPs often cannot provide direct, individual representation but can provide legal information, resources, and limited consultations. 
  2. The National Immigration Legal Services Directory, which includes only nonprofit organizations that provide free or low-cost immigration legal services, available at
  3. The Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project’s list of recommended private immigration lawyers, available at Private immigration lawyers usually charge a fee.

Individuals who are detained should still be able to make calls with their family and loved ones at their own cost. Only outgoing calls from the detention center are permitted and these calls are often monitored and may be recorded. If trying to reach someone who is detained by ICE, most detention facilities allow   leaving a message for the detainee with the facility. More information about leaving messages for detained individuals can be found at

Calls with anyone who is not an attorney, both by phone and teleconferencing, are made on unsecured lines and may be recorded. 

How to Find Out if a Family / Friend Is in Immigration Detention

If trying to locate someone who has been detained by ICE or or transferred to ICE custody, please  access the ICE Online Detainee Locator System at ​​ and search by entering the individual’s A-Number (their 9-digit immigration identification number) and their country of birth. If an A-number has 8 digits, add a zero at the beginning. 

A person can also search using the detained individual’s biographical information: more specifically, their first and last name as it appears on their immigration-related documentation, as well as their country of birth. If the search does not yield results, try different spellings of their name, as the government might have misspelled it in their records.

If a record of the individual is found in the system, it should state the  name and address of the detention facility that they are detained in.

If a person is unable to find a record of their relative or friend online, they can contact the ICE ERO Detention Reporting and Information Line at 1-888-351-4024.

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