In an investigative report published by The Intercept Friday, a leaked handbook on asset forfeiture is said to be the guiding principles behind ICE’s theft of property. The publication released excerpts from ICE’s handbook revealing how the government in coordination with USCIS is able to get around the laws that protect the people in order to rob them of their hard-earned possessions.
Asset forfeiture is broken down into two tiers according to the handbook, criminal and civil forfeiture. Criminal forfeiture occurs when the owner has been convicted and civil forfeiture which doesn’t require a conviction of the owner any charges to be filed. In essence a lower standard of proof is required.
The “two-tier system”, as Forbes puts it, states that there are cases where the owner does not have a conviction but isn’t innocent and invariably not deserving of their property.
As a result, “under criminal forfeiture, that property owner would be entitled to the return of the property. Under civil forfeiture, however, the owner would lose his or her interest to the Government.” That makes “the civil proceeding essential to forfeiture” for ICE agents.
The handbook further instructs ICE agents on the types of property to seize laying down a hierarchy of sorts when it comes to the asset forfeiture. It advises agents not to waste their time on property that costs more to seize than is worth. The general rule behind the forfeiture is “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.”
If agents come across property that they intend to seize but “there is not enough net equity to justify seizure and forfeiture,” a secondary reason is utilized of “overriding law enforcement.”
Based upon how the handbook is outlined focus is placed on the value of the property for seizure and apparently is of more importance than any guilt on the part of the owner. The handbook outlines six key factors to be considered before seizure:
“(1) the assessed value, (2) known liens, (3) the probable equity, (4) possible environmental problems, (5) the existence of sufficient probable cause for seizure, and (6) the ability to overcome possible defenses to the forfeiture.”
The Government Accountability Office reports that in recent years, “forfeiture revenue from ICE has consistently been approximately 50 percent or more of total forfeiture revenues by DHS.” Even more staggering is the equitable sharing that ICE is responsible for. Through this “sharing” local and state law enforcement work with other federal agencies to seize property under federal law which in turn is distributed among the agencies. ICE accounts for 90% of those distributions.