McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday announced it was implementing a new case management program that relies on help from nonprofits to track and offer more assistance to migrants through the agency’s Alternatives to Detention program.

The Alternatives to Detention (ATD) Case Management Pilot Program will provide counseling and support services to the migrants in conjunction with partnering nonprofits and local governments that will be eligible for reimbursement funds, DHS said. The new program will expand migrant services and add to current ATD programs, which utilize ankle monitoring bracelets, telephonic reporting and a smart app via cellphones to track migrants who have pending removal orders and immigration cases.

As thousands of migrant families continue to be released into South Texas after crossing from Mexico, DHS is counting on Congress to substantially increase funding to support the program in Fiscal 2022.

The expanded services to be provided include:

  • Mental health counseling
  • Human and sex trafficking screening
  • Legal orientation programs
  • Cultural orientation programs
  • Social services
  • Repatriation travel plans and reintegration support for those returning to their home countries

The new pilot program will provide voluntary case management and other counseling services to noncitizens who are in immigration removal proceedings to ensure they have access to legal aid and other necessary services to make their claims to remain in the United States. The program will also supplement the agency’s existing Alternatives to Detention programs run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Congress appropriated just $5 million in Fiscal 2021, to establish the Case Management Pilot Program. But $100 million was requested for the expanded ATD program under the 2022 Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, which currently is being negotiated in Congress.

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, told Border Report that lawmakers back putting $75 million into the ATD program in FY 2022 — $25 million less than currently listed in the bill but still a significant increase from the previous fiscal year.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar,

And part of the reason is that the Homeland Security Appropriation Committee “is concerned by the significant delay in ICE’s execution of funding provided in fiscal years 2019 and 2020 for case management services,” according to a document from the Committee that was shared with Border Report.

“The recommendation therefore realigns and increases funding for case management services to be executed by nonprofit organizations and local communities through a FEMA grant program,” the document reads.

Cuellar, a Democrat from South Texas, also provided data that shows a previous similar pilot program helped to lower the number of migrants who absconded or failed to report for immigration proceedings and saved substantial taxpayer funds by allowing migrants to remain free, not in costly ICE detention facilities.

Cuellar last month told Border Report that he still supports ICE detention facilities, saying: “We still need to have detention. Again, there are some real bad apples. I don’t think those people should be given ankle bracelets. Some should be in detention.”

Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the RGV, looks on as a migrant mother outfits a child with new shoes on May 21, 2021, at the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas. The center is among nonprofit organizations that could be eligible to apply for FEMA reimbursement funds for the Alternatives to Detention (ATD) Case Management Pilot Program, since it offers legal aid and other social services to migrants who have been released from DHS care. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report Photo)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is to administer the funds for the program and will distribute the money to qualifying entities that help migrants, such as Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, which operates the largest migrant shelter in South Texas.

Applicants must prove they “provide shelter to individuals released from the custody of the Department of Homeland Security and to provide accommodations in support of enrollments into an Alternatives to Detention program and related Case Management services, including necessary infrastructure improvements and investments,” according to the agency’s pending FY 22 appropriations bill.

Entities must apply by Sept. 17.

“We are excited to partner with nonprofit organizations and local governments on this pilot program to improve services for noncitizens in immigration proceedings,” DHS Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Officer Katherine Culliton-González, who will chair the National Board for the Case Management Pilot Program, said in a statement. “I encourage organizations working with noncitizens to apply to serve on the Case Management Pilot Program National Board and help us make this pilot program a success.” 

In expanding mental and emotional support for migrants, the new program is expected to better help migrants understand American laws and that could ensure they show up for all of their immigration court proceedings, migrant watchers say.

“The Biden administration’s new Alternatives to Detention case management approach appears to be driven by longstanding concerns that immigrants facing deportation often lack adequate legal and social support services. Not only does the lack of services undermine immigrants’ ability to present a full and accurate case, it also creates administrative challenges for the immigration courts that impacts efficiency. It remains to be seen just how this new Alternatives to Detention approach will work in practice, but it could be a step in the right direction,” Austin Kocher, a researcher with Transactional Research Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University, a nonprofit that tracks all immigration court cases nationwide.

TRAC reports that ICE held 25,526 people in detention centers as of Aug. 6, with three-quarters having no previous criminal record.

Graphic Source: TRAC

Releasing migrants from detention facilities also saves substantial taxpayer funds.

The daily cost of detaining a single adult in 2021 is estimated to be $125, with the cost of detaining a mother and children at $232 per day. However, a migrant placed in ATD costs just $4.43 per day to monitor, or about $38.47 per family per day, according to data provided by Cuellar’s office.

“The daily cost of detaining a single adult in 2021 is estimated to be $125 per day, with the cost of detaining a mother and children at $232 per day. However a migrant placed in ATD costs just $4.43 per day to monitor, or about $38.47 per family per day.”

The new pilot program would replace the ATD Family Case Management Program (FCMP), which was started in 2016 but ended in June 2017 — less than halfway through its five-year pilot period, data shows. That program utilized a family case manager who was assigned to each family to provide legal counsel, English language training, food and medical assistance and ensured they attended all immigration court hearings and meetings.

Data supplied by Cuellar’s office shows that the program had “high rates of compliance, with 99% attendance at immigration court proceedings and 99% compliance with ICE monitoring requirements.” Only 4% of participants absconded during the life of the program, a report provided to Border Report showed.

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at