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What Should I Do When ICE Agents Show Up at Our Office to Interview Me?

Trusted Federal Criminal Defense Attorneys at Oberheiden P.C. to Protect Your Freedom

It is Monday morning. You just returned to your office after a weekend of family fun and relaxation. You are about to begin your busy day when your assistant announces two unexpected visitors. Two gentlemen stand waiting eager to speak with you. They identify themselves as Agent Garcia and Agent Sample and show you their badges. They are with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Your heart races.

What ICE Agents Investigate in Federal Law Enforcement Cases

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Homeland Security are tasked with a variety of investigations in the areas of terrorism prevention, illegal trade and trafficking, and immigration enforcement. Often supported by other federal agencies such as the FBI, the more than 20,000 ICE employees are spread across the United States to monitor and enforce compliance with hundreds of federal laws.

Increasingly, the declared ICE enforcement focuses on immigration. In close cooperation with the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, ICE agents have begun to dramatically increase the number of investigations against employers for hiring and harboring workers that do not qualify to work in the United States and are thus illegal employees.

An Example of How You May Ruin Your Business Without Even Knowing It.

Oberheiden P.C. is a federal criminal defense law firm with substantial experience in preventing, mitigating, and avoiding federal criminal charges. Many of our attorneys come from leading positions within the Justice Department, or ex-federal agents, or otherwise attorneys who spend their entire career defending people and businesses accused of federal legal violations. We are:

  • Former DOJ Officials and U.S. Senate Confirmed Attorneys
  • National Defense and Trial Counsel
  • Personalized Service, No Junior Lawyers

What follows are two interview versions. Let’s say you own or operate a manufacturing business and you employ dozens of workers, many of which have a foreign background. The government knows that you have hired illegal workers in the past. ICE agents were tipped off by a former HR manager who left your company unhappily. She filed a complaint with ICE and informed the government about illegal workers at your site. With this knowledge, ICE agents opened an investigation against you and your business. The following two interview versions are real life examples of how you could respond to the spontaneous ICE interview request.

Interview Version No 1: The Possible End of Your Business (and Your Freedom)

ICE Agent: Good morning, I am special agent John Garcia with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Here is my ICE badge. This is my partner special agent Jim Sample. Are you Frank Miller?

You: Yes, I am.

ICE Agent: We just have a couple of questions. You are not in trouble or something. You mind us sitting down for a minute?

You: Uhm, sure. Come on in.

ICE Agent: Thank you.

You: So, what can I do for you?

ICE Agent: We are here to do a survey. The government is interested in learning about American businesses and we would like to know if you are aware of any law violations in your type of industry? Perhaps your competitors?

You: Well, I am sure they exist somewhere. You know, this is Southern Texas. What do you expect?

ICE Agent: Of course, sure. Did this issue ever come up?

You: You mean like here?

ICE Agent: Yeah, here or elsewhere that you are aware of.

You: No, not really.

ICE Agent: Oh, that’s good because we received a complaint that you may have Mexican workers here. Maybe occasionally? It’s not a big deal. We just need to close this file.

You: A complaint? From whom? Well, anyway. I mean no. I had some employees I had to fire. Not really shocked to hear they are spreading lies.

ICE Agent: Oh yes, former employees are often disgruntled and have an agenda. I understand.

You: Exactly.

ICE Agent: So, would it be fair to say that we can close the file and report everything here is good— like you don’t hire illegal workers?

You: That’s a fair statement.

[…]

Interview Version No 2: How to Do It Right

ICE Agent: Good morning, I am special agent John Garcia with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Here is my ICE badge. This is my partner special agent Jim Sample. Are you Frank Miller?

You: Yes, I am.

ICE Agent: We just have a couple of questions. You are not in trouble or something. You mind us sitting down for a minute?

You: I see. Thank you for asking. I prefer to have my lawyer present.

ICE Agent: Why? Nothing bad here. Or do you have something to hide?

You: As I stated, I want to speak to a lawyer first if you don’t mind, please.

ICE Agent: Sure, who is that lawyer?

You: If you are so kind and leave your business card with me, he will call you promptly.

ICE Agent: Got it. Here is my card. I wrote my cell phone number on the back.

You: Very appreciated.

ICE Agent: We’ll be in touch.

You: Yes sir. Thank you.

Why You Should Never Speak to an ICE Agent without the Approval from an Experienced Federal Attorney

You may think: What did I do wrong in example 1? I was a good citizen. I answered the officer’s questions, but I was cognizant, and I did not say anything that would incriminate me or others. I know how to protect my rights.

Well, not quite. If you ask 10 lawyers, 9 will probably agree with you that you did at least alright, certainly did not hurt your case. Unfortunately, there is a somewhat hidden federal statute that only those lawyers know that operate ICE, FBI, IRS cases on a daily basis. That statute is 18 U.S.C. 1001. In essence, this brief law makes it a federal criminal felony to make any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation to any federal agent (e.g. ICE agent) or, similarly, to withhold and not share any information when talking to federal law enforcement.

Put differently, your brief innocently seeming conversation with Agent Garcia was the equivalent to testifying, under oath and subject to federal perjury charges, before a federal judge. Worse, cover ups, misrepresentations, and concealing of information in the presence of an ICE agent investigating a federal matter are also subject to potential obstruction of justice charges.

The great injustice here is that federal agents may absolutely and always will lie to you. Imagine, the following conversation:

ICE Agent: Are you Mr. Miller?

You: Yes, that’s my name. Who are you?

ICE Agent: I am ICE Agent Garcia. I am here to interview you because we believe that you have committed federal crimes and should go to jail. Do you have time to talk?

Most people would take the words “committed federal crimes” or “go to jail” as such a red flag that all alarm signals would go off. The conversation is predetermined to be about something bad and dangerous and the reaction of most people would be to be guarded, reserved, cautious, and likely silent. They would realize that talking to a lawyer first is probably a good idea.

Agents want to catch you off-guard and by surprise. They know that melting the ice is most likely achievable when you feel secure—and for that reason give you the (often intentionally false) security and assurance that everything is okay and that they just have a few questions. Not a big deal. Just 2-3 questions about something that is not really important. BIG mistake to fall for this.

Note further, your statement to a federal officer can never be undone. It is irrelevant if you were surprised, in a moment of shock, unprepared, or whether you did not know that 18 U.S.C. 1001 exists. If you misrepresent or hold back material information in the presence of an ICE agent, that statement will haunt you forever.

Finally, no, you are doing it right, and following the Interview 2 model does not make you look guilty. It makes you look smart! Under federal law, agents must not interview you or have direct contact with you if you are represented. The fact that you are not yet represented at the time of the interview but clearly express your desire to seek advice of counsel first, is sufficient.

The Former Federal Prosecutors and Experienced Federal Defense Lawyers of Oberheiden PC Are Available to Protect Your Rights.

Oberheiden, P.C. attorneys offer clients decades of government service and insight experience when it comes to federal investigations, interviews with law enforcement, and federal criminal litigation. Our team members include:

  • Former Justice Department Officials
  • Former Assistant United States Attorneys
  • Former Federal Agents
  • Focus on Federal Defense Case

Speak to founder attorney Dr. Nick Oberheiden today and find out what other mistakes to avoid when you find yourself in the middle of an unexpected audit or investigation.

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