Immigration Customs Enforcement’s Other Job: Recovering and Repatriating Cultural Property
ICE, primarily known for its immigration enforcement efforts and raids, does much more than that.
The Homeland Security Investigations Unit (HSI) of ICE has announced the repatriation of more than 400 Peruvian antiquities at a ceremony at the Peruvian Embassy in Washington, D.C. Some of the artifacts dated back to the 8th century A.D. and included ceramics, textiles, and jewelry from the Moche, Narzca, and Chancay cultures that existed in what is now modern Peru. Statistically, trafficking in cultural property is one of the world’s most “profitable crimes” – with yearly thefts estimated in the $2 billion to $6 billion range.
ICE has a long history of recovering artworks:
In 2014, ICE found and recovered a painting by Johann Conrad Seekatz that had been removed from the National Polish Museum in Warsaw by Nazis between 1939 and 1945.
In late-2016, in conjunction with the Italian Carabinieri and with the help of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, ICE facilitated the return of a 19th-century Carelli painting that was stolen from a residence in Naples, Italy, and resurfaced at a Pennsylvania auction house.
Also in 2016, through “Operation Mummy’s Curse” and “Operation Mummy’s Hand,” ICE repatriated artifacts to Egypt that included a nesting sarcophagus discovered in a garage in Brooklyn, New York, and an 8th-century B.C. mummy hand “hidden” as prop from a science fiction movie.
Overall, since 2007, ICE has returned more than 7,800 artifacts, from paintings to dinosaur fossils, to more than 30 countries. To facilitate its mission to protect cultural patrimony, ICE has created enduring partnerships with law enforcement agencies and cultural institutions in the United States and abroad.