Several programs, already widely in use by ICE and proven highly reliable, could, if expanded, largely solve the conundrum created by the President’s new border policy, and make it unnecessary for Congress to pass a new bill which would extend the time that children may be incarcerated, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who is also an MIT-trained electrical engineer with security experience.
Thus President Trump’s claim that he had no option but to incarcerate entire immigrant families to carry out his new zero tolerance policy is incorrect, and there is no need for plans to pass a new bill which would modify the Flores Settlement to permit children to remain incarcerated more than the 20 days it now provides, the professor maintains.
In other words, it’s wrong to claim that the only way to enforce a zero tolerance policy is to either separate children from their parents until its possible to finally try the latter as criminals, or to put entire families into lengthy detention while this process takes place.
Customs officials already use at least three different kinds of technologies to insure that immigrants will show up in court to face justice as required, yet do not require the subjects to be put into physical detection; a process which during the last week has suddenly caused thousands of children to be separated from their families.
If the youngsters are kept in detention with their parents to avoid separations, as some have suggested, the detention – under a court order known as the Flores Settlement – requires that the children be moved within 20 days to the least restrictive environment. Thus the conundrum.
ICE currently uses at least three forms of electronic supervision which avoid the need to hold people in physical detention to assure that they appear in court for trial as required.
Perhaps the best known is the use of ankle bracelets with built-in GPS monitoring. The small units attached to the ankle keep ICE apprised of the location of each person being monitored, and can even send an alert if he moves beyond a certain range, or otherwise engages in movements which appears suspicious.
A second form of electronic surveillance uses an app called SmartLink which works by requiring the subject to check in at specified times, and permits officers to monitor people without detaining them or watching them at all times.
To verify the identity of the person checking in, the app uses a photo check-in as a biometric measure. Still another call check-in system uses voice recognition software, which is also highly accurate.
At least up until recently, the majority of undocumented immigrants detained at the border would be enrolled in Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s “Alternative to Detention” program.
This tech alternatives program works well, and reportedly has a 99.8% compliance rate, with virtually all of those being monitoring showing up in court to receive justice. As of mid February, over 77,000 people were supervised under this program.
As well as being far more humane than separating or otherwise detaining families, it is also far less expensive. Housing an adult can cost well over $100 a day, and providing least-restrictive-environment housing for children can cost much more.
In stark contrast, the cost of monitoring subjects using ankle monitoring devices is less than $5.00 a day per person, and contractors provide telephonic monitoring for less than 20 cents a day, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Still another method of insuring justice while avoiding physical incarceration is known as the “Family Case Management Program” [FCMP], a program originally developed under the Obama administration in 2016, only to be abandoned by the Trump administration in 2017.
Under this program, immigrants were paired with social workers who helped insure that they would show up for their court dates. This program was almost as successful at the technical monitoring programs, with only about 2% of the immigrants failing to show up in court on time. However, its cost was slightly higher: $36 a day per person.
So, says Banzhaf, rather than trying to hurriedly convert buildings on army bases into housing which meets all legal requirements for an estimated 20,000 individuals, and/or incarcerating entire families for months if not years until their trials can be held, the President’s advisors should seriously consider simply expanding at least one of several existing, well tested, and easily scaleable ICE programs which can permit the zero tolerance policy to remain in effect and at the same time honor the President’s request that children no longer be separated from their parents or guardians.
At least for immigrants whose only offense is entering the country illegally – and excluding those who smuggle drugs or people, those with criminal records or who otherwise present an unusual danger – permitting them to enter ICE’s already established “Alternative to Detention Program” or “Family Case Management Program” would appear to be the best – if not the only – way out of a corner into which Trump appears to have painted himself, suggests Banzhaf.