Record number of immigrants channeled to alternative detention programs

The number of migrants being monitored under a surveillance program launched as an alternative to traditional detention centers has grown astronomically during the Biden administration.

A record 132,026 immigrants are now being monitored under the Intensive Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Appearance Program (ISAP), up from 86,000 at the beginning of the year.

That growth has alarmed critics who say the program causes mental and physical harm to immigrants while doing little to divert them from physical ICE facilities.

“Too many people in this administration, and in previous administrations, have viewed these types of electronic surveillance programs as relatively harmless and effective alternatives to immigration detention,” said Peter Markowitz, director of the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at Yale Law School. . “I think what we see is that they are not harmless or really alternatives to detention.”

ISAP, now in its fourth iteration, was launched in 2004 as a way to monitor immigrants in deportation proceedings through a combination of home and field office visits, court tracking, and electronic surveillance.

The program has become a favorite of the Biden administration, which has tried to position its immigration strategy as a humane alternative to the previous one. President TrumpDonald Trump Jan. 6 panel demands that Meadows testify Friday or risks indictment for contempt Defense and Homeland Security: Biden celebrates Veterans Day Trump backs Texas representative who said he ‘very well could have’ committed impeachment crimes PLUS‘s.

“It seems that growth really started after Joe bidenJoe BidenBiden and Xi of China to hold virtual summit on Monday: Briahna Joy Gray reports: Biden ‘plays dumb’ with cancellation of student debt Defense and national security – Biden celebrates Veterans Day MORE took over, ”Austin Kocher, an associate research professor at Syracuse University who tracks immigration numbers, told The Hill. “The administration is somewhat reluctant to let the number of arrests be too high because they were low during the pandemic, for good reason.”

ISAP requires enrollees to wear ankle monitors, use a voice reporting system, or download an app called SmartLINK. All three tools have been developed by BI Incorporated, a subsidiary of the GEO Group’s private prisons trust that has been awarded all ISAP contracts since the inception of the program.

Immigrants spend an average of 615.1 days in the program, despite the recent influx of participants and the requirement that ICE review the terms of supervision of individuals every 90 days. And while it is advertised as an alternative to detention, the number of immigrants in ICE custody has nearly doubled to more than 22,000 as ISAP soared.

The use of GPS tracking ankle monitors has drawn particular scrutiny for the detrimental effects it has on the health of migrants.

Ninety percent of respondents in a recent survey conducted by the Markowtiz Immigrant Clinic who underwent the monitors reported experiencing physical harm from them, including aches, pains and cramps.

The survey, conducted in collaboration with Freedom for Immigration and the Immigrant Defense Project, also found that nearly 90 percent of respondents reported that shackles negatively affected their mental health.

Twelve percent of those surveyed reported having suicidal thoughts as a result of the ankle monitors, which essentially track their location 24/7 and also allow them to be contacted by ICE officers at any time. .

The data gleaned from the ankle monitors has enabled ICE to not only monitor individuals in the program, but also establish patterns of behavior for their communities that can then be used for enforcement operations.

The proportion of immigrants in ISAP subject to ankle monitors has declined significantly recently: 21.7 percent of participants had GPS monitors in October, down from 46 percent in June 2019.

SmartLINK has become the tool of choice, with about 60 percent of immigrants in ISAP using it in the past month.

The application is used for photographic registrations, where immigrants must take a photo of themselves at a given time which is then compared to one taken at the time of enrollment using facial recognition software.

SmartLINK, used in prisons across the country, also has the ability to make video calls to register and provides immigrants with appointment confirmations and court information.

The app has raised privacy and security concerns. ICE has said that it does not actively monitor users’ locations and only collects GPS information in logs.

The app’s facial recognition capabilities also pose problems, according to fellow Human Rights Watch fellow Jordana Signer, due to ongoing biases in technology against black and brown people, which could result in immigrants being unfairly punished. .

After being questioned by the senator. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee Wyden Equilibrium / Sustainability – Presented by Altria – River Thames comes to life Warren presses Biden on pardons for non-violent cannabis convictions Data broker shared location data with DC government for coronavirus tracking PLUS (D-Mineral), ICE said in 2018 that SmartLINK technology has a “high level of accuracy” and that the images collected through the application are not shared with any other agency.

While voice verification monitoring technology has received less scrutiny than shackles or SmartLINK, Markowitz argues that all three contribute to “widespread surveillance” of immigrant communities.

“To the extent that shackles, phone app monitoring, and voice recognition are different kinds of facets of this larger surveillance program, I think you’ll find similar harms,” ​​he told The Hill.

Immigrant rights groups have called for the entire ISAP program to be dismantled.

“We are adamant that we must end the criminalization of immigration,” Aly Panjwani, Take Back Tech member at Just Futures Law, told The Hill. “We cannot replace these physical prisons with high-tech ones because it is perpetuating the same prison approach to immigration as the [Department of Homeland Security] has had since its founding. “

However, public support for the abolition by legislators has yet to materialize. Meanwhile, some alternatives have been proposed to ensure that immigrants in removal proceedings attend court hearings without requiring that they be detained.

One is an Alternatives to Detention program that lasted less than two years. The Family Case Management Program, which provided families with case managers and legal guidance, had a 99 percent success rate before being canceled by former President Trump in 2017.

That rate means that almost everyone in the program attended all immigration appointments and court hearings. ISAP has the same rate, according to ICE.

Another alternative is to provide immigrants with legal representation to help them navigate the often confusing removal process. Several studies have found that doing so increases attendance at court hearings to levels comparable to those of immigrants under ISAP.

“There are very good lessons in some of the community-based alternatives to detention programs that have been carried out in the past,” Markowitz said. “In particular, those who have a legal services component and have the benefit of making sure that people are capable and conscientious enough to present themselves as required in immigration court, but also to support the capacity of people, the communities and families to survive and prosper. “

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