ICE’s Civil Forfeiture Guidelines Leaked, And They’re Not Good

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Anders Hagstrom Justice Reporter
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Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents are instructed to select property for forfeiture primarily based on its value, with the legal status of the property only a secondary concern, according to ICE forfeiture guidelines leaked to The Intercept.

The 71-page “Asset Forfeiture Handbook” governs forfeiture practices for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), a branch of ICE, The Intercept reported Friday. Civil forfeiture is the government practice of taking property from a private citizen. In civil forfeiture cases, the state prosecutes a person’s property, rather than the owner themselves, and assumes the property’s guilt because property has no due process rights. While the handbook was originally published in 2010, ICE confirmed to The Intercept that it was the most up-to-date version of department forfeiture guidelines.

“If there is not enough net equity to justify seizure and forfeiture, is there an overriding law enforcement reason to justify the seizure (e.g., a vehicle with a smuggling compartment, a firearm in the possession of a felon)? In these cases, the value of the item may be of secondary importance,” the document reads, implying that the value of the property defaults as the primary factor.

In fact, the document even directs agents to run an appraisal on private property before deciding whether to take it. Agents are to hire private contractors to run accurate appraisals and, if the property is worth enough, begin the forfeiture process. (RELATED: Police In These States Have The Most Freedom To Take Your Stuff)

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) put $3.6 billion into the federal forfeiture treasury between 2003 and 2013. More than $1 billion of those funds came from ICE.

The leaked handbook also lists ways for agents to prevent property owners from defending their property from forfeiture. The handbook lists four defenses that agents must “prepare for:” “‘The innocent owner’ defense; entrapment; duress; and undue delay in bringing the forfeiture action.”

The handbook goes on to say that the innocent owner defense is “by far the most frequently utilized.”

“Asset forfeiture is an essential element of comprehensive and effective law enforcement as it deprives transnational criminal organizations of their illicitly obtained assets,” an ICE representative told The Intercept. The forfeiture of assets can be and is utilized as a sanction in criminal, civil, and administrative investigative activities.”

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