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Criminal Alien Program (CAP)

The Criminal Alien Program (“CAP”) is one of the federal government’s largest and least understood immigration enforcement programs. Through CAP, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) agents screen detainees in jails and prisons across the country and place those deemed removable into immigration proceedings. Between 2005 and 2010, CAP led to the arrest of more than a million people, and the program was implicated in approximately half of all removal proceedings in FY 2009. As a result of CAP, ICE often deports individuals before they have been convicted of a crime or have had the opportunity to speak with an immigration attorney. CAP’s operations vary widely. In some jurisdictions, ICE agents work in jails to routinely interview and process prisoners. At other facilities, ICE agents interview detainees either during regular or ad hoc visits, or by telephone or video conference. Some counties give ICE full access to jails, while other localities limit agents’ access to certain hours or days of the week. Despite CAP’s role in removing hundreds of thousands of individuals each year, very little information about CAP is available to the public. What little is known about the program suggests that CAP targets individuals with little or no criminal history and incentivizes pretextual stops and racial profiling. The LAC and its partners are engaged in litigation intended to enhance public understanding and oversight of one the federal government’s most ubiquitous enforcement programs.


Lawsuit Against ICE for Failure to Disclose CAP Records

AIC v. DHS, No. 12- 00355 (D. Conn. filed March 8, 2010)

In early March 2012, the LAC, in collaboration with the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic of Yale Law School, filed suit under FOIA to compel the release of records concerning CAP. Co-plaintiffs American Immigration Council and the Connecticut Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association initially sought disclosure of records related to CAP through a FOIA request to ICE in December 2011.  They sought records held by ICE, its predecessor agency, INS, and DHS that would shed light on the development, operation and implementation of CAP.  Plaintiffs also sought a fee waiver for the search and production of the documents on the grounds that disclosure of the requested records is in the public interest. After receiving no substantive response from ICE, plaintiffs filed suit under FOIA. The complaint alleges ICE violated FOIA by failing to timely disclose and release records and by failing to grant plaintiff AIC’s fee waiver request.

On July 13, 2012, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment requesting the court dismiss the case because the FOIA request was too burdensome and because plaintiffs are not entitled to a public interest fee waiver. 

Press Release


Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment

Memorandum in Support of Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment


Letter to the Inspector General, Office of Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security (submitted Oct. 6, 2010).  This sign-on letter, submitted by AIC and other immigrants rights organizations requested that the OIG’s office assess whether DHS programs, Secure Communities and CAP comport with basic constitutional protections, their Congressional mandates, and the agency’s stated priorities.



Immigration Policy Center, Andrea Guttin, Esq., The Criminal Alien Program: Immigration Enforcement in Travis County, Texas (February 2010)

Immigration Policy Center, The Criminal Alien Program: Immigration Enforcement in Prisons and Jails (Feb. 17, 2010)

Office of Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security ReportU.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Identification of Criminal Aliens in Federal and State Custody Eligible for Removal from the United States (Jan. 10, 2011).

Detention Watch Network, Immigrant Defense Project, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Washington Defender Association’s Immigration Project, National Immigration Project of NLG, National Immigration Law Center, Rights Working Group, A Dangerous Merger: ICE Enforcement Programs in the Criminal Justice System (March 2010)

Congressional Research Service, Interior Immigration Enforcement: Programs Targeting Criminal Aliens (Oct. 21, 2011)

Related Legal Action Center Issue Pages

Enforcement, Detainers