When you come home to find a loved one is gone, naturally the first question you ask yourself is, “Where are they?” But what if you weren’t able to simply call their cell phone and ask? What if you didn’t know who to call to find out where he or she was?
Diana Guerrero, cast member of “Orange is the New Black,” made headlines a few months ago when she opened up about returning home to an empty house at age 14 – her parents had been detained by immigration officers while she was at school. Her neighbors were the ones to fill her in on where her parents were, and yet no government officials communicated with her or ensured her safety. Without her neighbors, she would’ve had no idea where her family was. Her parents were ultimately deported and she was taken in by a friend’s family.
Unfortunately, this is not an anomaly in the current U.S. immigration system. In fact, over 72,000 parents of citizen children were deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2013. That same year, a total of 438,421 individuals were detained and deported. That means there were thousands of families and communities who returned to find their loved one vanished, without knowing where he or she was being held.
While there are likely many facets of our system that need to be changed to account for citizen children and families left behind, there’s also an online tool to help people locate their loved ones who have been detained. Before, one would have to spend hours, even days, calling detention centers and trying to get information from guards and officials.
ICE has created an “Online Detainee Locator” to locate people who are currently in ICE custody or have been released in the last 60 days, either into the community or deported from the U.S. One can search by full name, country of origin, and (optionally) birth date, or by the detainee’s nine-digit A-number if it is known. If there is a match in the database, you can find out where your loved one is being held, and you can call the specified facility for more information. You can’t search the records for anyone under age 18.
Keep in mind, this tool may not have information on your friend or relative if he/she was just taken into ICE custody a few hours ago – paperwork may still be getting processed. However, within about 15 hours you should be able to access his/her information. Although it’s never easy to learn that your loved one has been detained, some people find peace of mind in knowing where he/she is, that he/she is safe, and that he/she hasn’t just disappeared. If you need further assistance, contact the immigration attorneys at Salmón and Haas.