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Under Biden admin, number of migrant families enrolled in alternatives to detention sees record jump

“The latest data shows there are 150,755 migrant families and single individuals currently being monitored by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University,” the report said. TRAC researcher Austin Kocher told Border Report that it’s the highest number recorded in more than 15 years.

“Alternatives to Detention is often considered preferable for immigrants, because being held in detention creates barriers to procedural justice, such as making it more difficult to obtain legal counsel,” he said in the report. “ATD is also cheaper for the government than detention.” 

2019 data from the Women’s Refugee Commission said that it costs the federal government roughly $38 a day to monitor a family enrolled in an alternative to detention program. For comparison, adult detention space costs roughly $139 a day. Family detention is nearly $800 a day. 

“From the government’s perspective, FCMP is far cheaper than either detention in an adult facility or in one of ICE’s family detention facilities, while having nearly perfect compliance rates with immigration requirements,” the Women’s Refugee Commission echoed. But while this program does keep asylum-seeking parents and children out of harmful family jails, Kocher notes this doesn’t mean it is perfect.

“However, immigration attorneys and advocates have also described negative consequences to clients on ATD, such as leading to frequent and disruptive virtual check-ins and feeling constantly watched by the government, which can be traumatic for people fleeing government persecution,” he told Border Report.

Some families in the alternatives to detention may be forced to wear an ankle monitoring device, which for some enrollees may be physically painful, deeply shameful, and embarrassing. “Although ICE considers these latter programs to be forms of release, numerous experts and researchers agree that ankle monitors, in particular, could or should actually be seen as a form of—not an alternative to—custody,” Women’s Refugee Commission said. The group notes that the UN Refugee Agency “strongly discourages” the use of ankle monitors.

Getting more immigrants out of harmful detention facilities is the right path to take. Now we need to ensure that humane alternatives to detention are truly alternatives to detention, and truly humane.

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