Human rights groups are stepping up the pressure on U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to immediately stop their digital surveillance of nearly 100,000 immigrants.
According to a new report authored by the Latino organizing group Mijente and immigration legal rights group Just Futures Law, the ICE uses apps, GPS-tracking ankle monitors and facial recognition software to monitor immigrants.
The report, titled ICE Digital Prisons, notes that these tactics “do more harm and inhibit any true progress in providing the social and economic tools for immigrants to thrive in their communities.”
It also argues that such practices further criminalize immigrants and harms their social and economic wellbeing.
Facing growing pressure to address concerns caused by the Trump administration’s aggressive immigration policies, the Biden administration has been funding digital methods for tracking immigrants rather than physically imprisoning them.
This digital alternatives program has been getting larger funding over the past years, rising from $28 million in 2006 to $440 million in 2021.
The program currently tracks 96,574 individuals, but the Biden administration’s 2022 budget request calls to increase that number by approximately 45,000 to 140,000.
These alternatives “support migrants as they navigate their legal obligations”, the Biden administration has said.
However, Julie Mao, an immigration attorney with Just Futures Law and an editor on the report, does not agree.
“There are so many ways ankle shackles cause physical and emotional harm for folks,” she said. “It’s deeply stigmatizing to have the ankle monitor, it can create sores, it must be charged often. Having that on you 24/7 creates a huge mental strain on people.”
The Biden administration also forces immigrants to consent to unscheduled home and office visits, check in with immigration officials via a smartphone app or over the phone, or some combination of all three as part of the program.
SmartLINK is an app that requires immigrants to check in by uploading a selfie for facial recognition while confirming their location.
The app “raises a number of privacy and surveillance concerns” the study says, pointing to the app’s ability to monitor location in real-time.
The report also noted that digital surveillance, in many cases, actually leads to real-life detention due to software glitches and technology faults.
ICE also uses data from the alternatives to detention program to track down immigrants for arrest.
In 2019, historical data from ankle bracelets was used to raid Koch Foods in Mississippi, resulting in the arrest of more than 600 individuals.
“Policymakers and advocates should reject calls to invest in carceral alternatives to detention programs and focus on solutions that put an end to all forms of immigrant surveillance and detention,” the report warned.