A record number of illegal migrants are now being monitored under a surveillance program introduced as an alternative to detaining them, according to a Friday report.
Under the Biden administration, the number of migrants involved in the program, which is overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has grown significantly to 136,026, an increase from around 86,000 in 2020, The Hill reported.
But though the migrants are not being incarcerated while awaiting adjudication of their cases, the fact that they’re being monitored is still alarming to critics who claim that the program is a source of mental and physical harm.
“Too many people in this administration, and in past administrations, have seen these types of electronic surveillance programs as relatively harmless, effective alternatives to immigration detention,” Peter Markowitz, director of the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic at Cardozo Law School, noted, according to The Hill.
“I think what we see is that they’re neither harmless nor really alternatives to detention,” Greenberg added.
In its fourth iteration, the program, known as ISAP, was first launched in 2004 as a means of keeping track of illegal migrants involved in removal proceedings with a combination of home and field office visits as well as electronic surveillance and court tracking. The program has been significantly expanded under the Biden administration, “which has tried to position its immigration strategy as a humane alternative to former President Trump’s,” The Hill noted.
“It looks like the growth really started after Joe Biden took office,” said Austin Kocher, a Syracuse University research associate professor who keeps track of immigration statistics, in an interview with The Hill.
“The administration is somewhat loath to have detention numbers go too high because they were low during the pandemic, for good reason,” he added.
Individuals taking part in the program are either required to wear ankle monitors, download an app called SmartLINK, or utilize a voice reporting system. All of the tools were developed by a company known as BI Incorporated, which is a division of the GEO Group, a private prison trust that has been given every ISAP contract since the program was launched.
The Hill noted that on average, migrants spend around 615.1 days in the program in spite of the recent spike in participants and an additional requirement that ICE officials revisit supervision terms for migrants every 90 days. But even as ISAP has grown, so has the number of migrants in ICE custody, swelling nearly twofold to more than 22,000.
Some immigration advocates simply want to do away with the crime of entering the country illegally.
“We are steadfast in that we must end the criminalization of immigration,” said Aly Panjwani, a Take Back Tech Fellow at Just Futures Law, in an interview with the outlet.
“We can’t replace these brick and mortar prisons with high-tech ones because it’s just perpetuating the same carceral approach to immigration that the [Department of Homeland Security] has had since its founding,” Panjwani continued.
Another alternative to incarceration and monitoring, say some immigrant advocates, is providing more legal representation, as doing so makes navigating the removal process easier and increases court attendance, according to studies.
“There are really good lessons in some of the community-based alternatives to detention programs that have been run in the past,” Markowitz noted.
“Particularly those that have a legal services component as well have both the benefit of making sure that people are capable and aware enough to show up as they’re required in immigration court but also support the ability of individuals and communities and families to survive and thrive,” he added.
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