ICE features ACLU, activist groups at event on expanding ‘Alternatives to Detention’ program

Immigration and Customs Enforcement is hosting a symposium Thursday on its Alternatives to Detention program that includes a number of immigration activists as speakers to explain a program that has dramatically expanded under the Biden administration.

The symposium at ICE headquarters in Washington D.C., which included addresses from acting ICE Director Tae Johnson and Corey Price, the head of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, hosted a number of panels on the Alternatives to Detention Program and is closed to the press.

The ATD program was set up in 2004 and has expanded since, significantly under the Biden administration. The program faced criticism during the Trump administration, with officials warning it was costly and ineffective.

The program uses various forms of case management and technology, including GPS monitoring via ankle bracelets, phone check-ins and smartphone apps to monitor about 5% of the illegal immigrants who are on the “non-detained docket,” meaning that while they are in the country illegally, they are not in ICE detention. 

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ICE agents conduct an enforcement operation in the U.S. interior June 2, 2022.

ICE agents conduct an enforcement operation in the U.S. interior June 2, 2022. (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

To be eligible, immigrants must be over 18, “effectively removable” from the U.S. and in some stage of the process. The majority are enrolled in the SmartLINK program, which has migrants check in and communicate using an app on a phone or other device. According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, there are more than 343,000 illegal immigrants being monitored in some form under the program. That’s up from just over 86,000 before President Biden took office.

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That increase comes as the Biden administration has scaled back immigration enforcement, restricting ICE to targeting recent border crossers, national security threats and aggravated felons, while also scaling down the amount of time immigrants are detained at the border. Instead, many more are being released into the U.S. with a Notice to Report or are enrolled into the ATD program.

The symposium includes discussions on best practices in case management, electronic monitoring and privacy, domestic and international approaches, program compliance and ensuring outcomes.

The discussions include top ICE officials and a host of speakers from organizations involved in immigration and refugee activism and advocacy, including those who have backed calls to reduce or abolish detention.

Speakers at the forum include a counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which recently scored a major victory in a lawsuit challenging the use of Title 42 to expel illegal immigrants at the southern border. As a result, that policy will be halted later this month, leading to fears that there will be a renewed migrant surge at the border.

Other organizations represented include the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Detention Coalition, which works for “a world where immigration detention no longer exists.” Also represented are groups including Human Rights First, Lutheran Social Services, the Migration Policy Institute and the American Immigration Council.

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Deportation officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested a three-time deported Mexican man wanted for homicide in California. 

Deportation officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested a three-time deported Mexican man wanted for homicide in California.  (Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

The moderator for the open discussion is Royce Bernstein Murray, who is acting senior counselor to DHS Secretary Mayorkas and previously worked for groups including the American Immigration Council and the National Immigrant Justice Center.

The administration has worked with immigration groups that have advocated for migrants and opposed immigration enforcement. Earlier this year, a nonprofit that has called for the defunding and abolition of ICE was tasked with overseeing a DHS pilot program to aid illegal immigrants facing deportation.

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The group will be involved in funding awards to service nonprofits and local governments to provide migrants services, which can also include language classes, health care, transportation, affordable housing and child care to those enrolled in the ATD program.

The administration’s ICE narrowed enforcement priorities, which coincided with a sharp drop in ICE arrests and deportations, have been blocked by a federal judge after a lawsuit from Republican states and are currently being considered by the Supreme Court. A ruling is expected in June.

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