ICE Ruses

When Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents go to homes and the community to arrest non-citizens, it’s common for them to lie about who they are and what they want from the individuals they encounter. The lies are called “ruses.” 

Ruses are an officially-sanctioned ICE policy, taught to new agents at the ICE Training Academy, and are subject to almost no restrictions. The Immigrant Defense Project’s lawsuit, Immigrant Defense Project, et al. v. ICE, et al., has made internal ICE training documents and memos, including those on ruses, publicly available. From the results of this Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, IDP produced the Defend Against ICE Raids and Community Arrests Toolkit, available in English and Spanish

Ruses are a tactic used frequently by ICE in investigating and arresting non-citizens. Since 2013, IDP has monitored ICE arrests, tactics, and trends, and has verified hundreds of reported raids, including those involving ICE’s use of ruses.

Though ICE’s tactics regularly evolve, ICE’s use of ruses has escalated since 2017. Familiarity with ICE tactics, like ruses, could help prevent an ICE arrest and protect loved ones. Read on to learn more about what kinds of ruses ICE uses, why they use them, and what you can do to protect yourself or loved ones. IDP has additional Know Your Rights materials here, including a flyer on the ways that ICE pretends to be local police. Find the flyer here, available in both English and Spanish.

What is a ruse?

On the morning of July 19th around 10:00 AM, two ICE officers came to a family’s home in Brooklyn near Coney Island. When the agents, whose clothing was unmarked on the front side, knocked on the door, CM and her friend went to the door but did not open it. The agents told the women in broken Spanish that they wanted to speak with them about the bible.  CM and her friend did not open the door.  The agents did not stay for long and when they turned to leave CM and her friend saw that the back of the jackets said “ICE” on them. The agents then went to several other apartments.

Story 1255 [CM], Brooklyn, NY, January 2019 [All initials have been assigned to protect identities].

A ruse is a strategy for ICE to get access to the person they have pre-identified and targeted for arrest. ICE’s plan in using ruses is to lure an individual into a public space or gain permission to enter the home to see if that individual is there. Once ICE agents visually identify the person they are looking for (their “target”), they can complete their goal of identifying and arresting the person.

ICE agents are allowed and encouraged to use ruses. ICE agents use ruses to gain entry to homes without judicial warrants or to obtain information about the individual for whom they are looking. One common ruse is where ICE agents pretend to be local law enforcement in order to hide that they are ICE.

ICE agents rarely have judicial warrants, so they need consent to be able to enter a home. Knowing that people are unlikely to give consent if they know the agents are ICE, ICE agents lie about who they are and what they are doing so that unsuspecting individuals will let them into the home and won’t know that they can exercise their rights.

In ICE’s own words:

“A ruse is a tactic designed to control the time and location of a law enforcement encounter. The result is improved safety for the officers and the public by reducing the opportunity for the target to flee.”

ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, Fugitive Operations Handbook, July 23, 2010.

Translation: If we lie about who we are or what we’re doing, you’re less likely to exercise your right to refuse us entry to your home or to answer questions.

“The USMS [US Marshal Service], FBI and various other federal, state and local agencies have successfully used ‘ruses’ to lure targets to locations where the arrests were made with the least amount of danger to both the officers and targets. The use of a ruse during an arrest means that we control the time and location, not the target.[…] Ruses can run the gamut from announcing that you are with ORO and looking for a person other than the target to adopting the guise of another agency (federal, state or local) or that of a private entity.”

John Torres, Acting Director of ICE, Memorandum on Use of Ruses During Arrest Operations, Aug. 15, 2005.

Why does ICE use ruses?

ICE uses ruses to get inside a home or obtain information from people without revealing that they are ICE. The Fourth Amendment applies to everyone in the US, regardless of immigration status, and protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures.

What this means is that ICE cannot enter a home without a judicial warrant (a warrant signed by a judge) or voluntary permission (consent) from an authorized adult. They almost never have a judicial warrant and therefore need consent to legally enter your home. ICE agents uses ruses as a way to get inside homes without identifying that they are ICE. 

Even though ICE agents may say they have a “warrant”, they are often referring to administrative warrants.  The administrative warrants they have are not the same thing as a judicial warrant.  The administrative warrant that ICE agents carry is an ICE form, is not signed by a judge, and does not require the same legal standard to obtain as a judicial warrant does. 

In ICE’s own words:

“Because neither a Warrant for Arrest of Alien (1-200) nor an administrative Warrant of Removal (1-205) authorizes you to enter the subject’s residence or anywhere else affording a reasonable expectation of privacy, you must obtain voluntary consent before entering a residence.”

ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, Fugitive Operations Handbook, July 23, 2010.

Translation: We know that our administrative warrant does not give us authority to enter you home, so we must get permission in order to come inside.

How does ICE find you?

ICE has significantly built up their capacity to track and surveil people they are targeting for deportation. ICE typically conducts investigations on individuals, and either rely on databases or field surveillance to gather information about that individual, including verifying where an individual may live or work or other locations that they frequent in the community.  Through this surveillance, ICE agents are able to visually identify their target, get a sense of what their schedule is, and try to identify who lives in the home with them.

Ruses are not only a tool that ICE uses to enter a home without a judicial warrant.  ICE agents also use ruses while they conduct field surveillance to gather information about their target.  One common ruse that ICE uses is by pretending to be local police.   Pretending to be the local police, ICE agents pretend to investigate fake crimes or fake crime suspects to identify and learn whether the non-citizen they have targeted is in the home and if not, where to find them.

During these ruses, ICE agents will dress in plain-clothes (not in uniform or wearing badge or anything visible that identifies them as ICE), wear similar colors as the local police, or wear vests that say POLICE across the front of them.  The agents will tell the person they are speaking with that they are the police and will inform them that they are investigating a criminal case or a criminal suspect.  Sometimes they show a photo of a “suspect” giving the person in the photo the name of someone who lives in the home (even though the photo is not of them).  ICE agents use ruses in conducting field surveillance to identify and learn where to find the non-citizen they have targeted.

In ICE’s own words:

Translation: ICE agents are trained to use surveillance, including loiter around your home and place of work, questioning your friends, family, neighbors, and employer, and even to peer into your windows.

Undated ICE Fourth Amendment presentation.

Does ICE teach its officers to use ruses?

Yes. ICE agents are taught that they are allowed to use ruses (with very few limits) and are trained on how to conduct a ruse. As part of their training, ICE agents are given suggestions of possible ruses and additional training on how to trick and confuse people. 

ICE agents are specifically trained on how to redirect focus and control a conversation. They are taught how to use conversational techniques to confuse people about who they are, what their goals are, and to make people feel like it’s safe or even necessary to let them inside the home or share information with them.

Remember to always ask questions before opening the door or letting anyone inside your home.  If the person at the door says they are the police or other law enforcement, ask questions. ICE and law enforcement agencies need either a judicial warrant or consent to enter home.  When ICE agents use ruses and pretend to be the police, they often ask to just “take a quick look around” or “come in to talk”.  What they are doing is distracting you from realizing they are asking for consent to enter the home so that you don’t know you can invoke your rights and say that you don’t give them permission to enter.

In ICE’s own words:

ICE Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, 4th Amendment Training (Refresher for Enforcement & Removal Operations Fugitive Operations), July 2011.

At 6:20 am, there was a knock at the door of the private home that MC lives in with her husband, children, and another family.  Three men wearing dark blue with vests that said “POLICE” were knocking on the windows and the door. The window knocks woke up MC’s 8 year old autistic child, who started crying.  Without opening the door, MC asked who it was, in English, and the men said “police.” They then said they were looking for a man named Lucas. MC told them that no one by that name lived in the home.  The men asked if she could open the door because it was cold outside. The men then asked MC if she spoke Spanish. She said she did and the men said that they just wanted to confirm that the men who lived in the house were not the ones they were looking for.  MC asked if they had a warrant to enter and they said they did not. MC told them that she would not let them in and that there were young children in the home, and the agents said they just wanted to take a quick look. MC did not respond and one of the men told her threateningly that they would be outside for 24 hours if she didn’t open the door.  She told them she was not going to the open the door. Eventually the men got into three unmarked cars, one with tinted windows, and drove away.

Story 1117 [MC], Staten Island, March 2019

What kinds of ruses does ICE use?

It is common for ICE to pretend to be local law enforcement. ICE agents often say they are “police” or “law enforcement” and mimic how local law enforcement officers act and dress.  In doing so, they hide their ICE badges, or anything identifying them as ICE.  They are often dressed in plain-clothes, are wearing similar colors as local police, and/or wear vests that say POLICE across the front.

As part of a ruse, ICE agents intentionally lie or mislead you about who they are and that their real intentions are to identify and arrest the non-citizen they have targeted. Pretending to be local police, ICE agents may pretend to be conducting a criminal investigation or identity theft case.  They may say they just want to show you pictures of a crime suspect to see if you know them.

ICE does not only use ruses pretending to be local police. They also use ruses pretending to be potential employers, or even private businesses. They may drive what looks like a delivery van, wear a fake uniform, or carry ladders, clipboards, and other props. They may intentionally be vague about who they are.

Ruses are not only an in-person tactic. ICE agents also use phone ruses as a way to locate their target. Through conducting their surveillance, ICE agents may obtain the phone number of the person they have targeted but not know where to physically find them.

Ruses that ICE has used over the phone include pretending:

  • to be local police and asking you to answer a few questions for them
  • to be local police asking you to meet them because you are the suspect in a criminal case
  • they found your lost ID and need to arrange a time and place for you to pick it up
  • to be calling from a local District Attorney office wanting to arrange a time and place to meet you
  • to call from a local court confirming an upcoming court date or asking for your updated contact information

ICE has very few limits to what they cannot do in a ruse. ICE cannot engage in a ruse where they suggest that the person needs to comply with a request because they are in immediate danger (for example, pretending that there is a gas leak and that everyone needs to evacuate a building) or enlist non-ICE personnel to take part in a ruse. They are not allowed to use the name of a local or state agency without getting permission from them or at least informing them beforehand.

ICE adapts and develops its tactics over time. They may shift their tactics to begin using lies and ruses that aren’t covered here.

In ICE’s own words:

Some examples of raids reported to our ICEwatch map:

Six ICE agents came to RD’s home at 5:30am in the Bronx. His wife answered the door, and the agents, who did not identify themselves as ICE, asked for RD. She told the agents that he was not home. One of the agents then told her his name was “Detective Chad” from Manhattan, that he was investigating an open criminal case, and left his card before leaving. After RD’s wife shared what happened with him, RD called the agent, believing that he was from NYPD, and told him he would come to the precinct to talk to him. Over the phone, the agent explained he would rather come to RD. They arranged a time for the agent to come to RD’s home to speak with him. Once the ICE agents showed up, they arrested RD and only then identified themselves as ICE.

Story 483 [RD], Bronx, NY, August 2017

MG works in construction as an independent contractor and received a call from a potential client. MG and a colleague arrived at the job site the next day around 8 am, which turned out to be a private home, and waiting for him was another worker, wearing paint-splattered pants and work boots. They did an inspection of the house, and the worker asked MG if he was interested in the job. MG said yes and the worker asked him to wait ten minutes while his boss arrived. MG and his colleague went outside to wait by their car. Ten minutes later a van arrived with three ICE agents. The worker identified himself as ICE and asked MG and his colleague for their IDs. After reviewing their IDs, the agents told MG’s colleague to go home and arrested MG.

Story 686 [MG], Newburgh, NY, April 2018

Plain-clothes ICE agents came to MM’s house at 7 a.m. asking for him. MM was not home and his step-daughter answered the door. The agents told her that they wanted to speak with him about an ongoing criminal case without identifying who they were. They assured his step-daughter that he wasn’t in trouble but that they just needed to question him about an ongoing case. The step-daughter gave the ICE officers MM’s phone number believing they were the police. The ICE agents then called MM and told him they were investigating a case regarding “someone he knew” and had a few questions for him. They gave MM a generic name and told him he knew that person. MM knows multiple people by that name ICE asked him if they could meet him at a police precinct. MM asked them which precinct they’d like to meet up at, and they responded “whichever one is closest to you.” MM then became suspicious and did not go to the 23rd police precinct, the closest one, at the arranged time. ICE called back and asked him where he was and told them that they were waiting for him. They then asked him to come to 26 Federal Plaza. It was only then that MM figured out they were ICE.

Story 1155 [MM], New York, NY, April 2019

Two plain-clothes ICE agents arrived at VS’s home at 6:30 am. He was not there, but the agents obtained his phone number from VS’s wife who thought they were the police. The agents called VS, claiming to be the police and asking to talk about an incident they were investigating. VS told the agents where he was staying in New Jersey and they arrested him there.

Story 1120 [VS], Queens, NY, March 2019

Plain-clothes ICE agents came to HVJ’s sister’s apartment at 5 am and started pounding on the door. HVJ’s sister answered the door and the agents, without identifying themselves, said they were looking for HVJ. They said that they wanted to verify that HVJ lived at the location. HVJ’s sister thought they were the NYPD so she called HVJ on the phone and asked him to come to her apartment. When he arrived, the agents arrested him and then identified themselves as ICE.

Story 1075 [HVJ], Brooklyn, NY, January 2019

 ICE agents called YL’s mom on her cell phone at 6:30 in the morning pretending to be the NYPD. They told YL’s mom that YL needed to go to the 83rd precinct to look at photos from an accident that he had been involved in.  YL’s mom told YL about the call and when YL went to the 83rd precinct later that morning, he was arrested by ICE agents just outside of it.

Story 552 [YL], Brooklyn, NY, August 2017

How can I protect myself from ruses?

Understanding ICE tactics can protect you and give you agency in an ICE encounter, especially where ICE is trying to trick you into not invoking your rights. IDP has created Know Your Rights materials, including flyers, posters, and infographics that summarize common ICE ruses used in person and over the telephone.

If someone comes to your door or calls your phone, have a plan for what to ask.

  • Ask officers for ID and where they work to see if they are immigration officials. If they say “police,” ask them if they are from DHS or ICE.
  • Ask them to show you a warrant by slipping it under the door. If they show you one, make sure any warrant is signed by a judge (not someone from ICE, which is an administrative warrant) and has the correct name/address before allowing them in.
  • If they do not have a warrant signed by a judge, ICE is hoping that you will give them consent to enter your home. You have the right to refuse entry.

If you suspect that ICE  or other law enforcement is trying to enter your home, have a plan for keeping them out.

  • You have the right to leave your door closed and remain silent. 
  • If they do not have a warrant, say “I do not want to answer any questions or let you in.”

If ICE is inside your home, have a plan for what to do.

  • If ICE agents are in your home and you don’t give permission for them to be there [or you want to take back permission you gave them], say “I do not consent to you being inside, please leave.” Repeat this until they leave.
  • If ICE agents ask for passports or identifying documents during an encounter, you have a right to say “I don’t want to bring my documents” or “I don’t want to give anything over.” You should always assess your own safety in asserting your rights.  You have the right to refuse sharing these documents but if you feel coerced or forced to bring your documents, you can and should still assert that you are not voluntarily sharing this information.

Five ICE agents, three in plain-clothes and two wearing vests that said POLICE, came to MG’s home in Far Rockaway at 6am. They knocked on the door of his apartment and told MG’s roommate that they were the police and were looking for MG. The roommate closed the door and told MG the police were there asking for him. MG went to the front door (which was closed) and through the door asked who it was. ICE agents said they were probation and that they had papers for him to sign to verify that he was living there. MG asked them to slide the papers under the door, which they refused to do. One of the agents then called  MG on his cell phone from an unknown number, asking for him in Spanish and repeated that they they were probation, wanting to verify where he lived. He also refused to slip the papers under the door when MG asked. MG looked out the window and saw the officer tell the others that he wasn’t coming out. A few of the officers left but 2 of them stayed behind. MG called the probation office to see if it was them and the officer confirmed that it was not.

Story 666 [MG], Queens, NY, April 2018

For more information on what to do during an encounter with ICE, check out IDP’s Know Your Rights flyers, graphics, and other resources.


IDP tracks ICE raids and ICE trends in arrest on our ICEwatch map. The map is not updated in real time.

To report an ICE raid where ICE has used a ruse, call the Immigrant Defense Project Helpline at (212) 725-6422.

Want to learn more about protecting yourself from ICE? Check out our Know Your Rights flyers, graphics, and other resources.