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GPS Monitors For Immigrant Families: A Temporary Policy?

GPS Ankle Bracelets To Track Immigrant
Families: A Temporary Detention Policy?

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Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security Department began a pilot program, using GPS ankle bracelets, to track immigrant families caught illegally crossing the Mexican border.

Almost immediately, the announcement was criticized by immigration reform friends and foes alike.

Under the program, named “RGV 250,” ICE officials plan to monitor 250 parents apprehended trying to enter the U.S. with their children in the Texas Rio Grande Valley, after they pass ICE screening and are cleared for release inside the U.S.

Presumably, the program was sparked by government statistics showing that about 70 percent of immigrants traveling as families failed to report back to ICE as ordered after they were released at the border.

Initially, this figure was misrepresented in news accounts to mean the vast majority of youths from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala were not showing up at their immigration court hearings.

Appearances at immigration offices, however, are distinct from immigration court appearances. Moreover, recent studies demonstrate where immigrant children have been released to a parent or guardian, they show up in over 80 percent of the cases.

DHS Is Using GPS-Enabled Ankle Bracelets To Track Immigrant Families Crossing The Border
Alicia A. Caldwell, Huffington Post, December 24, 2014

More than 429,000 cases are pending in federal immigration court. Thousands of those immigrants are enrolled in the ICE reporting program, which varies from reporting periodically via telephone to being outfitted with a GPS tracking device. According to the ICE document, ICE will be able to monitor about 29,000 immigrants with GPS devices in the coming year.

The Alternatives to Detention Program is a cheaper alternative to jailing immigrants. ICE said the RGV 250 reporting program will cost about $3.50 a day per immigrant after a $19.50 enrollment fee while other reporting programs cost about $4.28 a day. ICE spends roughly $119 a day to jail an immigrant.

 

On the one hand, many reform critics are opposed to allowing any undocumented immigrants into the country, even on a temporary basis. Other adversaries, though not against all reform measures, are not impressed with the 29,000 limit, which represents less than 50% of immigrants arrested annually along the Mexico – U.S. border.

On the flip side of the political aisle, some advocates have pointed out the DHS calculations are based on administrative flaws.

For instance, a joint report published by the Rutgers School of Law and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) entitled Freed But Not Free noted:

  • An absence of program guidelines and the sometimes random exercise of discretion, which have created the potential for abuse and arbitrary placement of individuals in certain programs.
  • No clear system or electronic tool exists for immigrants to confirm their reporting schedules or to prove their compliance with the program requirements.
  • A lack of consistency at check-ins baffles several participants. Since they do not meet with the same officer every time they check-in, immigrants, not fluent in English, are often at a loss how to proceed when they arrive at government office.
  • The frequency, location, and duration of check-ins are financially and logistically burdensome for immigrants and their families.

As a deportation defense and family unity lawyer, I’m fairly certain that our nation’s detention policies are not going to change anytime in the short term future.

It seems, then, at a practical level, the cost savings of nearly $120.00 per day justifies extending the program so long as the program’s managerial deficiencies are addressed.

Yet, I have a suspicion this use of GPS devices is not the end of the electronic monitoring story.

In other words, ostensibly put in place to address the large influx of Central American immigrant youths, the RGV 250 program may be the prelude to a more widespread DHS detention policy in future months.

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