I would like to know if a U.S. citizen, especially for those living in California, can face criminal charges from local or state authorities if they contact ICE instead of the local police to report the whereabouts of an illegal immigrant(s).

For example, say that someone is at a gas station late at night pumping gas and a truck pulls in to a gas pump next to their car. As the truck's driver is pumping gas, the person hears voices coming from inside the truck. Now say that this person just happens to have the number for ICE on their smart phone and they immediately call it and report the truck model and its license plate number. The next day, the local news shows a story about how ICE had pulled over a truck which had a lot of illegal immigrants inside of it based on an anonymous tip.

Now, if an ICE agent being interviewed for this news story was to accidentally reveal the name of the person who had contacted ICE the night before, would that person face any criminal charges from local or state authorities for having contacted ICE instead of contacting the local police?

Can a U.S. citizen get into legal trouble if they tip off ICE as to the whereabouts of an illegal immigrant(s)?

  • 3
    What law do you imagine would be violated by calling ICE rather than the police?
    – phoog
    May 25, 2020 at 18:00
  • 2
    @phoog, I’m not sure, but perhaps an anonymous tip could be grounds for being prosecuted for racial profiling because the person had assumed that the people inside the truck were Latinos, or perhaps since the person knew that ICE would automatically arrest any illegal immigrants then this person is guilty of premeditated entrapment and perhaps there is a law prohibiting such an act. I wouldn’t know this because I am not a lawyer.
    – user30507
    May 25, 2020 at 18:52
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    I suppose if you tipped ICE instead of reporting to the police some crime that you for some reason had a legal duty to report, that could be an issue? But the legal responsibility to report an observed crime in the US is quite limited, for example if you're a mandatory reporter for some class of crimes hopefully you already know you are. And then really you aren't being done because you reported them to ICE, it'd be because you thought that tipping ICE somehow "counts" as doing what you're really supposed to do. May 26, 2020 at 1:36
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    Also, the content of the tip-off is legally relevant. You've proposed you heard some people in the trailer of a truck, and maybe something else race-based since that's in your comment. So, "can the police charge me for anything if I call ICE and say I heard Mexican accents in the trailer of a truck at a gas station?" is a way more specific scenario than, "is there anything I could say in a report to the ICE, that could get me in legal trouble?". I'm pretty sure the answer to that second question is "yes", it is possible to commit a crime in the process of talking to ICE! May 26, 2020 at 1:49
  • 3
    Like, stupid example, but if the content of the tip-off was "hey, Mr. ICE guy, I have pictures of you taking drugs in this brothel I used to run. There's these illegal aliens I hired to kidnap my ex-wife, but they took the money and did nothing. I hear they're running a truck of immigrants over the border tonight. Let's just say those pictures are going viral unless I hear about a traffic stop tomorrow", and word of that "somehow" leaks, then I'm pretty sure at least two federal agencies and the local police are forming a disorderly queue to investigate you. May 26, 2020 at 1:59

1 Answer 1


It is illegal to threaten to report a person for violating the law (it is illegal to threaten a person). There are laws in California that limit official cooperation with ICE investigations, therefore the police will not arrest a person for being an illegal immigrant. This is basically a limit on use of state and local resources, and the state has the power to control its purse strings. The state has no power to mandate that individuals not report a suspected or imagined violation of federal law to federal authorities, and there is no California law purporting to have that power.

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