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Detentions of migrants are falling but alternative systems for monitoring asylum seekers are multiplying

McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) – The Biden administration is holding fewer migrants in detention centers, while the number of asylum seekers released under the Alternatives to Detention cellphone surveillance program increases, learned Border Report.

At the end of February, 17,984 migrants were detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in US facilities, according to the latest data from Syracuse University’s nonprofit Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), who tracks all immigration cases.

The last time ICE detention rates were this low was in mid-May, but that was followed by a sudden spike in detentions as massive numbers of migrants crossed the border southwest, mostly in southern Texas, last spring and summer.

(TRAC Chart)

The number of migrants held in ICE detention centers during the Trump administration was significantly higher, peaking at more than 55,000 in August 2019, reports TRAC.

“We saw a pretty big drop from the last data we got from US Immigration Customs Enforcement down to less than 18,000,” Austin Kocher, a TRAC researcher, told Border Report Monday.

Kocher attributes the drop in holdings to these reasons:

  • Fewer migrants are being detained at the US-Mexico border.
  • A decrease in the arrests of migrants by the internal police.
  • More and more migrants are being paroled in the United States pending asylum proceedings under the Department of Homeland Security’s Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program.
(TRAC Chart)

TRAC reports that nearly 190,000 migrants are currently in ATD. This includes migrants who report by phone to their social workers, those who have GPS ankle monitoring devices and those who report via the SmartLINK app from their mobile phone.

This is a significant increase in the number of migrants placed in ATD as 150,000 were reported by TRAC to be in the program at the start of the new year.

” It is enormous. All the action on the immigration detention side can be found in Alternatives to Detention. There was a huge investment from Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” Kocher said.

The ATD program uses technology, like smartphones and phone reports from migrants, to check in with DHS officials in what the agency calls “case management.”

Austin Kocher is a researcher at TRAC at Syracuse University. (Photo Kocher)

But Kocher said there is growing concern among migrant advocates that DHS officials are tapping into far more information about migrants through these devices.

“The big change is that they’re using smartphones with facial recognition technology, and while that helps reduce the number of detentions, there are concerns that using this type of intensive tracking – not just using geolocation , but using facial recognition technology – having access to migrants’ smartphones can present other privacy and confidentiality issues that we just don’t yet understand,” Kocher said.

Last month, DHS announced it was rolling out a new nighttime surveillance program that drew criticism from migrant rights advocates who likened it to placing migrants under “house arrest.”

The 120-day pilot program was to begin in Houston and Baltimore.

Border Report contacted ICE officials when the pilot program was announced to ask for details about monitoring migrants overnight, but no additional information was received.

A DHS spokesperson, at the time, said, “Alternatives to detention are an effective method of tracking non-nationals released from CBP custody who are awaiting immigration processing. As part of the process, Border Patrol agents collect biometric and biographical information — fingerprints, photos, phone numbers and U.S. address — and conduct background checks to identify criminals or those who pose a risk. for public safety. Those who do not report are subject to arrest and possible deportation by ICE.

We contacted ICE again on Monday to ask how many migrants are currently participating in the pilot program, but the spokesperson said no further information was available.

Kocher said TRAC has submitted FOIA requests for additional information, as current data does not specify which migrants are placed in the “house arrest” program. It only clarifies if they’re on ATD and if they’re reporting by phone, cellphone, or have an ankle monitoring device — which Kocher said the administration doesn’t seem to be doing much more about. .

“I would ask ICE to proactively release these numbers and let us know. Or add the data to their data set. Just let the public know how important this program is. “Is it a dozen or two? Is it a few hundred or is it several thousand,” he said.

(TRAC Chart)

TRAC reports that a majority – 68.6% – of all migrants detained by ICE do not have a criminal record.

Additionally, Texas is the state with the most ICE detainees in fiscal year 2022 – a total of 5,863 – followed by Louisiana, Arizona, Georgia and California. .

(TRAC Chart)

In January, migrants held at Texas ICE facilities also had the highest rates of COVID-19, with the omicron variant spreading across the United States.

TRAC reports that as of February 22, 45% of detained migrants were held at ICE facilities in South Texas, including:

  • 1,082 in Pearsall
  • 515 in Dilly
  • 309 in Karnes City
  • 451 in Los Fresnos
  • 275 in Laredo

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Additionally, 1,055 people were being held in facilities in and around Houston; 432 in El Paso; 316 in Alvarado outside of Fort Worth; and 308 in Taylor, Texas, outside of Austin.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at [email protected]