Enforcement Overdrive: A Comprehensive Assessment of ICE's Criminal Alien Program

39 Pages Posted: 4 Nov 2015

See all articles by Guillermo Cantor

Guillermo Cantor

American Immigration Council

Mark L. Noferi


Daniel Martinez

University of Arizona - Department of Sociology

Date Written: November 2, 2015


The Criminal Alien Program (CAP) is a massive enforcement program administered by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and has become the primary channel through which interior immigration enforcement takes place. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of individuals removed from the interior of the United States are removed through CAP. Each year, Congress allocates hundreds of millions of dollars to fund this program. Until now, however, little has been known about how CAP works, whom CAP deports, and whether CAP has been effective in meeting its goals.

Based on government data and documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), this report examines CAP’s evolution, operations, and outcomes between fiscal years 2010 and 2013. That data shows that through CAP’s enormous web, ICE has encountered millions and removed hundreds of thousands of people. Yet, CAP is not narrowly tailored to focus enforcement efforts on the most serious security or safety threats — in part because CAP uses criminal arrest as a proxy for dangerousness and because the agency’s own priorities have been drawn more broadly than those threats.

As a result, the program removed mainly people with no criminal convictions, and people who have not been convicted of violent crimes or crimes the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) classifies as serious. CAP also has resulted in several anomalies, including that it appears biased against Mexican and Central American nationals. Moreover, the number of CAP removals differs significantly from state to state.

ICE’s reliance on CAP to achieve its goals will likely continue as ICE further narrows its focus on removing noncitizens with criminal convictions and continues to seek partnerships with state and local law enforcement to find them. This examination of CAP’s outcomes from fiscal years 2010 to 2013 offers important insights into CAP’s operations over time and its potential impact on communities moving forward. In particular, it raises questions about the ability of a broad “jail check” program to effectively remove serious public safety threats without resulting in serious unintended consequences, such as those described in this report.

Keywords: criminalization, social control, immigration, unauthorized immigration, undocumented immigration, Latinos, immigration enforcement

Suggested Citation

Cantor, Guillermo and Noferi, Mark L. and Martinez, Daniel, Enforcement Overdrive: A Comprehensive Assessment of ICE's Criminal Alien Program (November 2, 2015). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2685372 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2685372

Guillermo Cantor

American Immigration Council ( email )

1331 G St. NW
Suite 200
Washington, DC 20005
United States

Mark L. Noferi

Independent ( email )

Daniel Martinez (Contact Author)

University of Arizona - Department of Sociology ( email )

United States

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