|(28 Feb 2022)
The number of migrants monitored by Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Alternatives to Detention program has more than doubled since the start of the Biden administration, from around 87,000 people in January 2021 to nearly 183,000 in February 2022.
ICE’s Alternatives to Detention program—“ATD” for short—relies on a variety of technologies to monitor noncitizens who are awaiting their immigration court hearing, already have a deportation order, or whom the agency otherwise decides warrants monitoring.
ICE’s ATD program includes three types of technology: GPS ankle monitors, telephonic reporting (TR), and SmartLINK, which is a smartphone app that uses facial recognition. All of the growth in ATD monitoring during the Biden administration has taken place through SmartLINK technology, while the number of people enrolled in ATD through GPS monitors and telephonic reporting has remained constant. At the start of the Biden administration in January 2021, ICE was using SmartLINK, GPS ankle monitors, and telephonic reporting in equal parts so that each technology constituted roughly one third of the total number of cases. However, between January 2021 and February 2022, GPS and telephonic reporting remained largely stagnant, while SmartLINK technology more than quadrupled from about 27,000 to more than 118,000.
Although the total ATD enrollment has more than doubled during the Biden administration, some of ICE’s Areas of Responsibility or AORs (i.e. enforcement regions) have experienced higher growth than others. Boston and San Antonio have seen much higher than average growth. Boston’s ATD enrollment grew nearly five fold in the past 13 months, from 1,503 in January 2021 to 7,118 in February 2022. El Paso saw an even larger growth; the ATD population in ICE’s El Paso region grew eight fold. And Phoenix saw by far the most growth, with ATD numbers increasing from just 1,101 in January 2021 to 14,306 today.
The increase in ATD’s enrollment in the San Antonio AOR would have been the highest in the country but its Area of Responsibility which covered both Central and South Texas at the start of the Biden administration was split into two in FY 2022. ATD cases that were in South Texas which were formerly attributed to San Antonio were then tabulated under the new Harlingen AOR starting in FY 2022. This left San Antonio covering just Central Texas. The Harlingen AOR first appeared in ICE’s ATD reporting in November 2021 and today stands at 16,070—the largest number of people on ATD for any AOR in the country.
Note: despite the name Alternatives to Detention, ICE describes ATD not as a substitute for detention, but as a program that “allows ICE to exercise increased supervision over a portion of those who are not detained.” According to data in TRAC’s Detention Quick Facts tool, even though detention numbers have declined somewhat in 2022, the growth in ATD has not resulted in the agency ending its use of civil detention centers. However, detention numbers remain far lower, at just under 20,000 in February 2022, than during the Trump administration when TRAC found that detention numbers reached 55,654 in July 2019.
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