EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The Biden administration has allowed a record 216,450 migrants to exit detention, with most self-reporting their whereabouts through a cellphone app.
According to an April 9 report from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the average length of migrants placed in the Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program is now 439 days. ICE requires released individuals to self-report by calling a telephone number or get the SmartLink app for their mobile phones. In some cases, the person must wear a global positioning system (GPS) tracking device, present himself or herself to an ICE office or be subject to a home visit, according to the agency’s website
However, as per ICE, there is currently one case manager available for every 125 migrants on the ATD program. The program has grown from 86,000 individuals near the end of the Trump administration to nearly three times that number in 14 months.
Immigrant advocacy groups welcome the increased federal spending on the ATD program – $443 million in fiscal year 2022 compared to $126 million in 2017 – which has kept about the same number of people forced to wear GPS devices (28,000) while letting the rest self-report.
“The United States can and should implement alternatives to detention that serve to reduce the overall detention population,” the American Immigration Council said recently. “These true alternatives to detention are more humane, more cost-effective and more in line with international standards.”
The council says transitioning migrant monitoring from an enforcement model to a case-management model is “the path moving forward.”
Still, some groups are uncomfortable with ICE collecting personal information of individuals freed from immigration detention.
The Samuelson Clinic, Just Futures Law and the advocacy group Mijente on April 14 sued the federal government to find out what data it collects from ATD program participants and for what it uses it.
Harlingen, Texas, had the most migrants on the ATD program as of April 9, with 22,148. Some 3,700 were required to wear the GPS devices but more than 17,000 were issued the phone app. San Antonio was second with 20,125 and Phoenix had 18,695. Los Angeles reported 14,954 while El Paso had 12,780, including 10,512 reporting through the phone app and 1,356 wearing GPS devices.
Migrants in the St. Paul, Minnesota, area had remained freed the longest, with an average of 1,119 days (three years), followed by San Francisco, with 1,032 days. Migrants have been on ATD an average of 112 days in San Antonio, while those in El Paso and Harlingen averaged 135 days and 57 days, respectively, according to ICE.
The ATD program began in 2004. As of late 2020, an aggregate of 3.26 million individuals was on the non-detained docket, many with pending cases before an immigration court. ICE says it can only monitor about 5 percent of those migrants.
The degree of supervision varies from case to case and relies on technology. Some migrants get the ankle bracelet (GPS), others call a predetermined number with voice recognition technology and, nowadays, most use the phone app which has facial recognition features.