AN INTERNAL HANDBOOK obtained by The Intercept provides a rare view into the extensive asset seizure operations of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, an office that trains its agents to meticulously appraise the value of property before taking it.
HSI’s 71-page “Asset Forfeiture Handbook,” dated June 30, 2010, underscores the role seizures play in “helping to fund future law enforcement actions” and covering costs “that HSI would otherwise be unable to fund.” It thus offers an unprecedented window into ICE’s wide-ranging asset forfeiture operations and the premium the agency places on seizing valuable property. Forfeiture proceeds can bolster ICE’s partnerships with local police departments, which are now the subject of heightened debate given the Trump administration’s hard-line immigration agenda.
ICE confirmed to The Intercept that the handbook reflects the agency’s most up-to-date guidance on asset forfeiture. Agents under its instruction are asked to weigh the competing priorities of law enforcement versus financial profit and to “not waste instigative time and resources” on assets it calls “liabilities” — which include properties that are not profitable enough for the federal government to justify seizing. “As a general rule, if total liabilities and costs incurred in seizing a real property or business exceed the value of the property, the property should not be seized,” the document states.
The handbook also instructs ICE agents on the various ways laws can be used to justify the seizure of a property, and devotes a significant portion of its pages to the seizure of real estate. The manual instructs agents seeking to seize a property to work with confidential informants, scour tax records, and even obtain an interception warrant to determine whether “a telephone located on the property was used to plan or discuss criminal activity” in order to justify seizing the property.
The handbook acknowledges that civil forfeiture can be used to take property from a person even when there’s not enough evidence for a criminal indictment.
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