The Criminal Alien Program (CAP): Immigration Enforcement in Prisons and Jails

Immigration Policy Center
Date of Publication: 
February, 2013
Source Organization: 
American Immigration Council

The Criminal Alien Program (CAP) is an expansive immigration-enforcement program that is responsible for the initiation of a large proportion of removal proceedings. While CAP has existed in one form or another for decades, there is still much to be learned about the program, how it is organized and how it works.  

What is known is that CAP extends to every area of the country and intersects with most state and local law-enforcement agencies. A declaration submitted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) suggests that CAP is not a single program, but a loose-knit group of several different programs operating within ICE. Other than a small number of staff responsible for the administration of CAP at ICE headquarters, there is no dedicated CAP staff. Rather, ICE pulls personnel and resources from across the agency to perform CAP-related functions. 

The ICE declaration also explains how CAP functions within prisons and jails. There appears to be little consistency in how CAP co-operates with local law-enforcement agencies and in how CAP interacts with detainees in different facilities. The declaration paints a picture of an ad hoc set of programs that operate differently across the country and across penal institutions, raising questions about the adequacy of oversight, training and accountability of the personnel implementing CAP. 

This information confirms that there is still much about CAP that remains unknown or unclear. Given the breadth of CAP, the centrality of its role in immigration enforcement and its large impact on the immigrant community, it is critical that ICE explain how CAP operates. 

Download now or view online.


Immigration Policy Center (2013). "The Criminal Alien Program (CAP): Immigration Enforcement in Prisons and Jails." Washington, D.C.: Immigration Policy Center. Retrieved from