June 26, 2019 11:18AM

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agent Deaths in the Line of Duty

Last week, President Trump tweeted that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents were going to soon launch a major operation to arrest and deport illegal immigrants inside of the United States.  On Saturday, President Trump reversed himself and said that he is going to delay the operation.  The Washington Examiner is now reporting that the operation is canceled permanently because acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan leaked the details, thus removing the element of surprise and putting the “public at risk and law enforcement officers in harm’s way” according to Brandon Judd, the head of the National Border Patrol Council. 

Mr. Judd may be correct that the leaked details of the proposed raids would put ICE agent at increased risk of harm.  After all, one of our findings was that harsher local immigration enforcement through local 287(g) agreements in North Carolina increased the number of assaults against police officers without any other effects on crime.  More enforcement by itself increases the risk to ICE agents.  What remains unclear in Judd’s statement and others is the degree to which the potential danger would increase for ICE agents.  To estimate that requires understanding the degree of danger that ICE agents currently face on the job or have faced historically.  Thus, this post estimates the annual chance of an ICE agent dying in the line of duty.  

Data for the number of ICE agents come from the Office of Personnel Management FedScope employment databases for September of every year except for 2018, where I relied on March data.  The 2019 data are not available yet, so I just assumed that the number of ICE agents in 2018 is the same as in 2019.  In all cases, I only counted a subset of ICE employees as law enforcement officers who could regularly be in harm’s way.  They are those employed as general inspection, investigation, enforcement, and compliance officers (1801), compliance inspection and support officers (1802), criminal investigation (1811), and investigation student trainees (1899).  

The data on ICE agent deaths comes from the Officer Down Memorial Page that records the deaths of law enforcement personnel who perished in the line of duty.  Since fiscal year (FY) 2003, when ICE was created, a total of ten agents have perished, but only six of them perished for injuries sustained after ICE was created in 2003 (Table 1).  Four agents died as a result of illnesses thought to be contracted while they worked helping to clean up the 9/11 terrorist attack sites.  Since ICE was created in 2003, I count those deaths from injuries that occurred in that year or later.  Enforcement Agent Lorenzo Roberto Gomez died while in training.  Special Agent Timothy Allan Ensley died of dengue fever while on special assignment in Indonesia.  Two agents were shot, one while on assignment in Mexico.  One ICE agent was murdered in a vehicular assault in Miami.  Lastly, one died of a heart attack while pursuing a suspect.  I counted all of them as dying in the line of duty.

From 2003 through 2019 so far, the annual chance of an ICE agent being killed in the line of duty is about one in 37,917 per year.  Their annual death rate on the job is about 2.6 per 100,000.  Being an ICE officer is more dangerous than being a Border Patrol agent during roughly the same time.  From 2007 through 2017, the annual chance of a police officer being killed in the line of duty was about one in 15,249 per year with an annual death rate of 6.6 per 100,000.  Being a normal police officer is much more dangerous than being an ICE agent.  

Every unjust death is a tragedy.  ICE agents volunteered for a job that routinely places them in danger but that heightened danger does not translate into a higher chance of dying in the line of duty when compared to other law enforcement officers.  Although we don’t know for sure whether President Trump’s aborted raids would have placed ICE agents in harm, we do know that their job is safer than that of normal police officers and Border Patrol agents.