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How to Become an ICE Agent

Image from U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In 2017, President Trump issued an executive order that requires U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hire 10,000 more officers, and for Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to fill 5,000 more positions. This will triple the number of ICE agents, according to CNN Money, and would also provide a large jump in border patrol agents.

ICE agents are mainly responsible for enforcing customs and immigration law at the border, but also inside the country, while CBP agents work at or near the border. According to the ICE website, ICE is “responsible for protecting America from the cross-border crime and illegal immigration that threaten national security and public safety.”

Florida Tech instructor and ICE Special Agent Jackie Acosta says, “As special agents, we have many duties and responsibilities. We conduct many types of investigation. We have legal authority to enforce a diverse array of immigration and federal criminal statutes.”

With proposed immigration reforms and the call for more ICE agents, the demand will be high for qualified people to fill these roles.

How to Become an ICE Agent

Within ICE, there are different divisions in which a person can work, and to be an ICE employee, all applicants must meet the following criteria, while some positions may require more:

  • U.S. citizen
  • Valid driver’s license
  • Eligibility to carry firearms
  • Males born after 12/31/1959 are required to have Selective Service registration
  • Pass a physical test and a drug test
  • Clear background and security vetting process

In addition to these basic eligibility requirements, most positions may require more, like a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or homeland security. Additionally, some jobs ask for applicants with previous law enforcement experience.

For Acosta, her education and experience as a detective made a big difference in her career:

“My education has significantly enhanced my work performance and career potential. As many people would say, ‘Knowledge is power,’ and if you can apply the knowledge and experience to the workday, you will achieve better success. It has also helped me in obtaining a special agent position with ICE-HSI, because of the knowledge and experience I have in the criminal justice field. To become a special agent, you must meet the education and/or experience requirements, show evidence of having the required skills and pass a written test.”

Hiring new agents takes a while. After passing the basic requirements, potential agents must undergo an entrance exam. Additionally, they attend a 16-week basic training program with training in Spanish, seven written exams and further physical assessment. With those exams comes a tough stipulation – applicants can only get less than 70% on one of the exams, and they only have one chance at a makeup exam.

After the basic training, applicants must also complete a lie detector test. Because the hiring process is so intense, many applicants bow out.

Working within ICE

Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) division works to carry out U.S. immigration laws at and within the borders of the country. These officers are tasked with finding those who may pose a threat to national security, such as gang members and convicted criminal aliens, according to the ICE website. This division is made up of deportation officers and detention and deportation officers.

To join the ERO division as a deportation officer, applicants must meet all requirements listed above, and may need to meet age requirements. The detention and deportation officer position also requires all those, but needs previous law enforcement experience.

The Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) division is the investigative component of the Department of Homeland Security and has 8,500 employees, 6,500 special agents and 700 intelligence analysts. The division has employees assigned to 200 U.S. cities and 45 international locations. Within this division are positions like criminal investigator and technical enforcement officers.

Criminal investigators travel frequently and are also referred to as special agents. They are responsible for investigating criminal and civil instances of national security issues, drug smuggling, human trafficking, financial crimes and more. They often work with other agencies like the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Technical enforcement officers are responsible for running electronic surveillance devices and coordinating the electronic surveillance phase of investigations. They also work with special operations teams and install equipment for covert surveillance to collect evidence. They also train other operatives in their tactics.

Job Outlook and Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not specifically track ICE agents, but for police and detectives, the average annual salary as of May 2016 was $61,600. Salary may change based on experience and location, so job seekers are encouraged to do their own research.

The field is expected to grow 7% by 2026, but the recent executive order issued by the president may affect the growth of ICE and CBP agents.

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