A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration attorney and counsel. Contact Info: 732-632-9888, http://www.1visa1.com/ (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

Friday, July 23, 2010

ICE Online Detainee Locator System

In recent years, the U.S. government has been actively enforcing the immigration laws. Once a person is determined to be deportable from the U.S., actions are taken to place the person in removal proceedings. After an order of deportation becomes final, i.e., all appeals have been exhausted or abandoned, the person will be removed from the U.S. expeditiously. When deportation proceedings are pending, many respondents (subjects of removal proceedings) are detained in various federal and state detention facilities including federal prisons, state and county jails, and private detention centers. It is sometimes difficult for family members to locate these detainees, which are subject to transfer to new locations without prior notice. Respondents are sometimes detained at facilities far away from their family members and community, making it difficult to obtain legal representation.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced recently that it is taking concrete steps to address these detention issues. Specifically, the agency has launched the ICE’s Online Detainee Locator System (ODLS), a public, Internet-based tool designed to assist family members, attorneys and other interested parties in locating detained aliens in ICE custody. ICE is a branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security responsible for the removal and detention of unauthorized individuals in the U.S.

The public may access the ODLS through ICE’s public website www.ice.gov and obtain information about the location of the detention facility where a particular individual is being held, a phone number to the facility and contact information for the ICE Enforcement and Removal Office in the region where the facility is located. There is also a multi-lingual brochure explaining how to use the ODLS on the website in the following languages: English, Spanish, French, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic and Somali.

To search for a detainee’s location and information, an ODLS user can enter an individual’s alien registration number, also known as their “A” number, and their country of birth. Alternatively, users can also search by entering an individual’s first name, last name, country of birth and date of birth. For privacy reasons, the system will only respond to ODLS queries if the data entered is an exact match of data in the system. Therefore, it is very important for family members to have correct and complete information at hand when accessing the system. Similarly, ICE will advise the detainees the importance of providing accurate biographical information (e.g., correct spelling of names) to ensure that their information is correctly stored on ODLS.

To protect the privacy of detainees, the system is smart enough to only produce information that is already known to the users but not additional biographic information. For instance, if a user enters the person’s alien number and country of birth, the result would only include this information but not the person’s name and date of birth. Also, juvenile’s (detainees under the age of 18) information will not be available on the system. It should also be noted that the system info is about 8 hours old, and a new detainee’s information may take some time to be uploaded. Before making plans to visit an individual, contact the detention facility to learn more about its visiting hours and rules.

The creation and activation of the ODLS is part of the ongoing efforts to reform the immigration detention system, as announced by ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton in August 2009. According to the agency, more concrete and sweeping steps will be taken to improve detainees’ medical and mental healthcare, as well as conditions of confinement.

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