How to Use the ICE Locator to Find Detained Friends and Family

Updated on April 10, 2024

At a Glance

  • Use the Online Detainee Locator System (ODLS) on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website to find out if your relative has been detained by ICE.
  • Search for them using their Alien Registration Number or their name, ensuring accurate information and allowing time for system updates.
  • If the search is unsuccessful or it’s been over 60 days since their release, contact the appropriate field office for assistance.
  • Familiarize yourself with ICE’s policies on interstate transfers to keep your family members close to their support system.

We understand you as an immigrant might be in a difficult situation. A friend or family member of yours has recently been detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Where do you even start looking for them? Is it possible to know where they could be held? Courts have fortunately ruled in favor of DACA Dreamers recently but that doesn’t mean all immigrants are safe.

Let us help you find your loved ones using an ICE online locator. An ICE locator helps you find someone’s location if they are detained by the ICE department of the U.S. government. This is how the Online Detainee Locator System (ODLS) works.

How to Find Out if Your Relative Has Been Detained by ICE

You got the news and it seems someone close to you could be detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This is obviously an alarming situation and you would like to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible. But where do you find that person? Who do you contact? Are you allowed to look for this person?

Yes, you may know the whereabouts of the people you love even if they are detained by ICE. They have a unique and easy-to-use feature on their website which helps you find detainees. Let’s show you how it works.

Online Detainee Locator System

It’s called the Online Detainee Locator System or ODLS for short and is found on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website. The ICE department of government must carry out any immigration court orders, especially any removal procedures against immigrants who are unwilling to cooperate.

How to Find an Immigration Detainee

The ICE online locator is fairly simple to use and would save you lots of time and effort by not having to make any unnecessary phone calls:

Read on to learn about each of these methods.

Search by Alien Registration Number

You can get an ICE inmate located through the ODLS. But you need some information about the person you are looking for. An Alien Registration Number could help you tremendously.

Immigrants who come to the U.S. are required to have official documentation that allows them the right to enter the country. Some immigrants get an Alien Registration Number (A-number) which helps identify their immigration matters for administrative purposes. An A-number has 9 digits. Add a zero (0) to the start of the number if it only has 8 digits, or else the system won’t recognize it.

Once you have confirmed their A-number you can go to the ICE online locator website and enter it into the correct section (remember the correct format). You also need to specify their country of birth. It helps the system to track down the location of that person if they are indeed detained. This is a sure way to get an ICE inmate located.

Search by Name

But what do you do if you don’t know your loved one’s A-number? How could you still track them down? You could just type in their biographical information on the same ODLS webpage. Go to the ICE online locator and complete the search.

The webpage has two separate search sections. The first for an A-number and a country of birth. The second section is for people who don’t know the A-numbers of the people they’re searching for. You only have to complete the section by which you want to find the persona and hit search. You decide which suits you best.

Once you’ve completed the search the system will confirm whether that person is “in custody” or “not in custody”. Please note, some peoples’ locations won’t be shared by the system. It may be in that person’s interest to keep that information classified. A juvenile’s (under the age of 18) location won’t be disclosed by the ODLS. Someone who has only recently been detained still has to go through processing. Their record may also not yet be online if you search too soon after they got detained.

Spelling Matters

Remember, you don’t have any official documentation to find this person by. It is therefore extremely important to enter their name and biographical information without any errors. It has to be the exact information or else the system won’t recognize them. Find a document or something official as a reference to validate the information you enter into the search bar.

What to Do if Your Search Doesn’t Work

There could be several reasons why your search doesn’t work:

  • You used the wrong search bar
  • You have errors in your search
  • The system hasn’t been updated yet
  • Too much time as passed

Let’s look at a few and see the remedy for each.

Earlier we looked at the two ways how you can use the ICE locator. It’s important to use the correct section. Don’t enter the A-number into the biographical section, and don’t enter biographical information into the section reserved for an A-number. The section will only process the information it’s supposed to receive. Make sure you enter the information into the correct one or else you won’t find the desired result.

Correct Errors

You won’t be able to find the person you’re looking for if you don’t enter the correct search information. Enter the person’s exact name and dates into the appropriate sections. You can use official documentation like a birth certificate, an identification document, or a driver’s license to help validate the information.

Unexpected Result

Perhaps you heard your relative was detained just now. You searched for their location but couldn’t find any answers. You were a bit too hasty. Just give it a little time before you use the online detainee locator.

The ODLS could take up to 8 hours to update. Wait more than 8 hours after the person has been detained before you search for their location. Give the system enough time to update and then perform your search. As an extra tip – first phone the center where the ICE inmate is located before you visit them. They might transfer the person to another facility without your knowledge. It’s also important to note their rules and visiting hours. Comply with their rules and regulations or else you might not get a chance to visit your friend/relative.

What If 60 Days Have Passed Since Their Release?

The ODLS only keeps the information about people who are in custody or who have been released from custody in the past 60 days. You’ll need to contact the appropriate field office if you need to find information about someone who was released more than 60 days ago.

ICE Policy Regarding Interstate Transfers

The ICE has a policy that bars it from transferring detainees to a different facility that is deemed too far from their immediate family members at a current facility. Know your rights since it may help keep your family members close to their support system if they get detained for some reason. You know how to use the online detainee locator to get an ICE inmate located, and you also know about their transfer policies.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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