McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The U.S. Department of Homeland Security soon plans to roll out a controversial pilot program that will confine some migrants to overnight “house arrests” as they remain in the United States awaiting their immigration court proceedings, according to some reports.
The 120-day program will start in the coming weeks in Houston and Baltimore, and at first, 100 to 200 single adults will be put in the program, Reuters reports.
If successful, the program is expected to expand nationwide, Axios reports, citing DHS officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.
It is part of the Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program, which allows migrants to remain in the United States while awaiting court proceedings under monitored supervision. ATD has been used since 2004 as a way to avoid incarcerating migrants in detention facilities, such as the two family detention centers operated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in South Texas where sometimes thousands of migrants are held.
The number of migrants put in ATD has dramatically increased under the Biden administration, which now appears to be trying to expand the program.
Those placed in ATD are put in what is called a “non-detained docket,” meaning ICE still has supervision over them but officials use a variety of electronic tools — such as telephonic reporting, ankle monitoring devices and phone apps — to track the migrants, according to ICE.
Transactional Research Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University, which tracks immigration cases, reports on its website that as of Jan. 15, there were 164,391 migrants in ATD listed on the non-detained docket.
This is an increase of about 15,000 migrants put in the program from mid-December to mid-January, according to TRAC. And it is nearly double the 87,000 migrants who were in the program when President Joe Biden took office.
“Biden is just using ATD like crazy to keep detention numbers low, but it also means relying on some new types of possibly intensive monitoring technology that will likely draw some criticism,” TRAC researcher Austin Kocher told Border Report.
Migrant advocates say adding more of these programs and decreasing in-person detentions indicate that the Biden administration wants to find alternatives to incarcerating migrants who are seeking asylum in the United States. But not all agree the new overnight curfew program is the best way to do this.
“Rather than criminalizing immigrants by placing them on ‘house arrest,’ the federal government should give them access to the resources they need to succeed – including legal counsel,” said Nicholas Katz, legal director for the migrant advocacy group CASA.
“ICE ‘alternatives’ to detention (ATD) that the administration is seeking to expand have only proven to be another framework to restrict, surveil, and harm immigrants, and has to date not resulted in fewer people in detention,” according to a statement by the Defund Hate Coalition, which includes the Detention Watch Network.
Those placed in the new “home curfew” program will be required to remain at home from 8 p.m. until 8 a.m., with some exceptions for job schedules and other circumstances, according to a notice sent by ICE reviewed by Reuters earlier this week.
It is unclear whether the migrants placed in “home curfew” also will be required to check in via phone calls, in-person visits or on special apps.
Border Report has reached out DHS and ICE officials and this story will be updated if additional information is received.
This is the second expansion of the Alternatives to Detention program in the past six months.
In August, DHS began a new case management program that relied on assistance from partnering nonprofits and local governments that were reimbursed for services.
Reuters reports the new home curfew program will cost just $6 to $8 per day per migrant to monitor.
This is significantly less than the $125 per day cost in 2021 to detain a single adult, according to information Border Report obtained last year from U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas.
Cuellar, vice chairman of the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, said in 2021 it cost $4.43 per day to monitor a migrant placed in ATD.
In August, Cuellar was pushing for Congress to fund $75 million for the ATD program in Fiscal 2022. But budget negotiations for this fiscal year still continue. And on Tuesday, the House passed a third continuing resolution to fund the government, and to avoid a shutdown, pushing a final vote back to mid-March.
Reuters reports that the Biden administration plans to ask Congress for enough funding to place up to 400,000 migrants per year in ATD, including the home curfew initiative.
Migrant advocates are urging lawmakers to cut funding to ICE.
“Appropriators need to recognize their critical role in protecting immigrants, refugees and people seeking asylum from a punitive system that strips people of their dignity and basic human rights and separates them from loved ones,” The Defund Hate Coalition said. “Congress must serve as a check on the administration’s efforts to grow the detention system and surveillance dragnet, and significantly reduce funds for ICE and Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP).”
The Maryland-based advocacy group CASA also urged that monitoring programs do not put undue burdens on migrants.
“CASA welcomes efforts by the Biden administration to reduce the use of detention for immigrants and urges further policy development so that unnecessary restrictions are not placed on individuals who are awaiting their day in immigration court. The ‘alternative to detention’ program, while an improvement over past practice, must be implemented in a manner that avoids excessive cost and surveillance in immigrant communities,” Katz said.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org