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If you know someone who is being held in immigration detention but you don't know where, you can search for them using an online tool. The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement division has an Online Detainee Locator System (ODLS) that you can use to find someone with only a minimal amount of information.
You can find someone by their A-number (short for alien registration number) and country of birth. This, according to ICE, is the best way to search. But even if you do not know the A-number, you can input a name and birth country and use the tool to locate an inmate in immigration detention. Let's consider what information the tool will provide, and what you will not find.
The government states that information on the ODLS tool is anywhere from 20 minutes to eight hours old. Information is updated regularly within the ICE System, and according to the government, authorities must input information about changes within eight hours. Still, you should check with a specific facility before any visits because an inmate may be moved without notice in the system until after it occurs.
The better search, recommended by USCIS, is an A-number search because it is more likely to yield information about the specific person you seek. If you do go by a name search and cannot find the person you're looking for, try multiple spellings as there can be numerous variations on any name. Without knowing the person's country of origin you will not be able to locate the inmate.
What ODLS Doesn't Do
You will not find information on inmates who are under 18 years of age using ODLS. Nor will you find information about visiting a detainee. You should locate an inmate online using the system, and if you find that they are in "in custody" status, note the facility and contact it for specifics on visiting.
ODLS will not tell you the person's immigration status or, if the inmate is released, what the resolution of the case was. The tool provides the information about the location of anyone over 18 who is in the system within a 60-day period. It reflects what has happened and not what is expected to occur, and it does not reflect substance about an inmate's case, just location information.
Talk to a Lawyer
If you are concerned about someone in immigration detention or have your own immigration issues, speak to a lawyer. Many immigration attorneys consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to assess your case.