Published Oct 11, 2022
During the first year of the Biden administration, ICE’s Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program grew rapidly from 86,548 at the end of December 2020 to 157,157 at the end of December 2021, attracting public interest and demonstrating the centrality of ATD to the Biden administration’s approach to immigration control. Despite these large—and growing—numbers made public by ICE through bi-weekly disclosures on its detention website, the public has seen little data about who has been enrolled in ATD.
In this report, TRAC examines the growth of ATD during the first year of the Biden administration using detailed data obtained from ICE through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. These data on ICE’s ATD program are not the most current. As TRAC recently announced, by the end of September 2022 the number of people in ATD exceeded 300,000 for the first time. Nonetheless, the data in this report provide a far more detailed picture than ICE’s regular ATD releases.
The nationalities represented in ICE’s ATD program diversified considerably in the first year of the Biden administration. At the end of December 2020, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and El Salvador—four countries highly represented in immigration enforcement data—constituted fully 80 percent of all people in ATD. A year later, these four countries dropped to less than half (48 percent) of all people in ATD. Only Hondurans showed an increase (and a significant one, from 14,771 to 22,693), while the number of Guatemalans, Mexicans and Salvadorans actually declined in absolute numbers.
Instead, the growth in ATD numbers were driven by ICE’s enrollment of many more nationalities into its ATD program, including Hondurans, Venezuelans, Nicaraguans, Cubans, Brazilians, Haitians, and many other nationalities which saw very considerable growth. The number of Venezuelans in ATD, in particular, increased 26 fold over that year, from 608 to 15,884, while Nicaraguans, not far behind, grew to 17 times their original numbers (from 833 to 14,846) over the same period. The number of Brazilian’s grew from 2,170 to 11,643, Ecuadorians grew from 596 to 7,341, and Colombians grew from just 204 to 2,365. See Figure 1.
ICE’s ATD program—also known as ISAP or the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program—is managed by a private contractor, BI, Inc. BI currently relies on three electronic monitoring technologies: GPS ankle monitors, TR (telephonic reporting), and SmartLINK. GPS ankle monitors are devices worn by noncitizens that rely on global position systems (GPS) to track location. Telephonic reporting requires immigrants to check-in at specific intervals over the phone using voice matching technology to confirm identity. SmartLINK, the newest of the three, is a smartphone application that relies on facial recognition and other technologies to confirm the identity and location of people enrolled in ATD. Although debates about electronic monitoring are ongoing, GPS ankle monitors are typically considered to be the most intensive form of monitoring.
As TRAC has pointed out in the past, ICE’s data show an overall trend away from using both GPS ankle monitors and telephonic reporting, and towards using the smartphone app SmartLINK. In December 2020, ICE used each technology in approximately even proportions, with GPS used in 32 percent of cases, TR in 30 percent of cases, and SmartLINK in 35 percent of cases. A year later at the end of December 2021, these numbers shifted dramatically: GPS was used in just 19 percent of cases, TR in 16 percent of cases, and SmartLINK in 63 percent of cases.
These data, previously released to the public by ICE, are not new (see TRAC’s interactive ATD table here). What is new, however, are data that show variations among who is assigned to each technology based on nationality and gender. ICE’s move towards SmartLINK affected nearly all groups, regardless of gender or nationality, but some groups saw more benefit than others.
Guatemalan and Mexican nationals saw considerable drops in GPS usage, from 29 and 28 percent of cases respectively down to just 9 percent each. Most other nationalities saw a significant but less pronounced decline in the relative use of GPS ankle monitors: just 26 percent of Haitians in ATD were on ankle monitors compared to 68 percent the year before and among Cubans just 30 percent were on ankle monitors compared to 67 percent.
Other groups saw much less proportional decline. The rate at which Nicaraguans were put on ATD nearly kept pace with massive growth in Nicaraguans overall: 36 percent of the 14,846 Nicaraguans on ATD at the end of 2021 were on ankle monitors, down slightly from 42 percent the year before but only 833 were in the program at that time. A similar pattern emerged for Colombians, who saw a decline from 39 to 34 percent on GPS, but amid over ten-fold growth from 204 to 2,365.
Among the 25 most frequent nationalities that TRAC examined, only Turkish nationals saw an increase in GPS ankle monitor usage, from 27 percent to 46 percent over the year in question, as they, too, increased ten-fold from 88 to 888. See Table 1.
|December 2020||December 2021|
|El Salvador||2,779||3,020||6,185||207||12,191||El Salvador||1,530||7,194||4,717||126||13,567|
|Dominican Republic||61||28||23||0||112||Dominican Republic||89||128||24||1||242|
|All other||1,225||845||835||27||2,932||All other||894||2,076||683||26||3,679|
|Grand Total||28,049||26,281||30,607||1,611||86,548||Grand Total||30,398||98,395||25,914||2,450||157,157|
In addition to nationality, gender also appeared to play a role in overall growth as well as the growth in who was placed on each type of monitoring technology.
At the end of 2020, ICE's total ATD population was composed of slightly more women (51 percent) than men (49 percent). However, by the end of the first calendar year of the Biden administration, men made up 54 percent and women made up 46 percent of people monitored by ICE. Most nationalities were relatively evenly split by gender recorded by ICE, although some exceptions stood out. At the end of 2021, Brazilians in ATD, for instance, tended to be more male (8,471 or 73 percent), while Salvadorans tended to be more female (9,083 or 67 percent).
Women tended to be assigned to less restrictive forms of monitoring, including TR and SmartLINK, rather than GPS ankle monitors. In December 2020, just 21 percent of women were on ankle monitors compared to 45 percent for men, and 67 percent for immigrants identified as intersex in ICE’s data. ICE also used TR for 44 percent women but just 26 percent for men and 10 percent of intersex immigrants.
By December 2021, consistent with the overall trend towards SmartLINK, the percent of women and men on GPS both dropped to half their previous number. Just 11 percent of women and 26 percent of men were on GPS, while intersex immigrants saw the greatest change: GPS usage dropped to just 7 percent of those cases. See table 2. To put it differently, when looking specifically at those migrants who remained on GPS ankle monitors at the end of 2021, nearly three-quarters were identified as male and just one-quarter were identified as female, while for telephonic reporting, 61 percent of people were female and 39 percent were male. See Figure 2.
It is unclear from the data alone how much the gender and nationality compositions of ATD reflect the underlying composition of arriving immigrants compared to the decision making processes about who is added to ATD and on which technology.
|December 2020||December 2021|
ICE’s previous ATD data releases included enrollments by Area of Responsibility (AOR), which provided some geographic information; but AORs can span several states and some states have more than one AOR. However, ICE’s detailed data include information about the city and state for each anonymized case, which allows for a more detailed look at state-by-state ATD numbers.
Notably, while California traditionally has had by far the most immigrants monitored on ATD, Texas ended 2021 with the most people monitored. During a year when total ATD enrollments slightly less-than-doubled, the number of people monitored by ICE in Texas grew six-fold from 5,681 to 33,902. Massachusetts and Arizona also grew over six-fold in the same year, more than Texas, but in terms of absolute magnitude, Texas jumped ahead of California and New Jersey in terms of total ATD enrollments.
|District of Columbia||708||1,752|
Although these numbers represent a shift in terms of who is monitored by ICE’s ATD program, the shift is not necessarily surprising given the context of who is being arrested at the border by Border Patrol (BP) officers. TRAC’s recent data on BP arrests (through July 2022) show a similar increase in arrests at the border of Venezuelans, Brazilians, Cubans, and others between FY 2020 and 2021. Many of these immigrants who are lawfully seeking asylum have been permitted to enter the country and monitored by ICE using ATD technology while they pursue their asylum claims.
Although ICE emphasizes that ATD is not a true alternative to detention, the Biden administration’s growing ATD numbers stand in contrast to the relatively static detention numbers, which have hovered between 20,000 and 25,000 for most of the Biden administration so far (see TRAC’s detention data table here). This does not mean that detention numbers can’t or won’t increase alongside an increase in ATD enrollments—they can. But it means that, for now, the Biden administration is relying heavily on electronic monitoring as part of the administration’s posture on immigration enforcement policy.