Smuggled into Exile: Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Practice of Deporting Non-citizens without Valid Travel Documents

Smuggled into Exile: Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Practice of Deporting Non-citizens without Valid Travel Documents

Families for Freedom (FFF) report revealing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) practice of deporting people without valid travel documents violating international customary law. The report “Smuggled into Exile: Immigration Customs and Enforcement’s Practice of Deporting Non-citizens without Valid Travel Documents” highlights several cases in which individuals have been deported with invalid travel documents or no travel documents at all. 

The deportation of a person from the United States is a process that requires international cooperation and coordination between the U.S. and receiving countries.  At the heart of this process is a travel document, such as a passport or a visa that ICE needs to secure from the embassy.  A travel document allows the deportation of non-citizens across international borders and legal entry into said country. ICE’s Detention and Removal Operations Policy and Procedure Manual (DROPPM) explicitly states that deportation officers “must” obtain a valid travel document from the receiving country’s consulate before removing the person from the U.S.  This report highlights that ICE violates international customary law and its own internal policies.

Executive Summary CLICK HERE

Full Report CLICK HERE


Key Report Findings:

1. ICE deports people without valid travel documents, violating its own internal policy and international customary law. 

2.  Non-citizens who are mandatorily detained are vulnerable to prolonged and indefinite detention, when ICE is unable obtain travel documents.

3.  ICE prioritizes obtaining travel documents and opts to deport people who have been injured in their custody, thereby violating international human rights law.

4.  Recent interpretations in United States law confers to the Secretary of Department of Homeland Security broad discretion to deport a non-citizen to any country.

5.  ICE deports people even when embassies and consulates have issued official letters stating that they are unable to issue travel documents.

6.  People who have been deported without travel documents are vulnerable to abuses and deprived of accessing fundamental rights and services.


1.  The Office of Inspector General should follow up on the 2007 audit “ICE's Compliance With Detention Limits for Aliens With a Final Order of Removal From the United States.”

2.  ICE should adhere to the Supreme Court’s rules limiting ICE’s ability to prolong detention as set forth in Zadvydas v. Davis.

3.  Recent changes in U.S.C. § 1231 (b)(2)(E) should be challenged so that sovereignty is respected and the provision becomes in line with U.S. international obligations.

4.  Embassies and Consulates should make sure that ICE is honoring official letters and communications regarding the inability to issue travel documents.

5.  Receiving countries should make sure that all persons deported by ICE have valid travel documents, and if not, receiving countries should return the person to the U.S.