‘Alternatives to Detention’ is a Failed Program

Republicans’ inability in the U.S. House of Representatives to move forward and confirm California’s Kevin McCarthy as the new Speaker of the House gave Democrats a few good laughs. In the rough and tumble D.C. political world, taunting at the other side is par for the course.

But for rank-and-file Democrats, the Republicans’ clumsy start on their avowed “Commitment to America” agenda hurts their party’s blue-collar workers and their families. No guarantees, of course, that the notoriously underperforming Republicans would make good on their promises to secure the Southern Border, slow inflation, expand domestic energy production, rein in big tech, determine COVID-19’s origin and repeal the Internal Revenue Service expansion by 87,000 workers.

That’s a lot to chew on. But most Democrats and Republicans would get behind those efforts, particularly slowing the illegal migrant flow that’s persisted for two years, added millions of prospective workers to the labor force, and is poised to continue, barring federal intervention, for two more years. As dramatic as the images are of thousands of worldwide migrants congregating in the Rio Grande Valley or the hundreds disembarking from buses in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C., destinations to which frustrated Texas and Florida governors have sent them, what’s happening behind the Capitol Hill scenes is equally troubling.

The Biden administration has set out to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and open borders advocates have been feverishly working with it to bring about the agency’s demise. Information shared by a Department of Homeland Security whistleblower with The Washington Times revealed that in the interior, alien arrests including convicted criminals, detainer requests and deportations are sharply down. For example, convicts’ removals were down 62 percent from 2020. One ICE officer said that “officials are being paid not to do their job.” Thousands of pending immigration cases have been thrown out, and the petitioning immigrants have been released into the general population.

For those illegal aliens that ICE does capture, many aren’t detained, but rather enrolled in a program called “Alternatives to Detention.” ATD, as the program is referred to, electronically monitors illegal immigrants who are processed and then released with tracking devices. In 2004, ICE, claiming that it had insufficient detention space, began the ATD program to oversee released illegal migrants through ankle monitors, GPS tracking and cellphones. ATD represented an option to holding migrants waiting for the years-long immigration court backlog to dwindle. Between 2015 and 2020, ATD participants more than doubled from approximately 53,000 in 2015 to 111,000.

But when, in late December, Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) sent a Freedom of Information Act request for data on ATD’s effectiveness from the beginning of fiscal 2019 to August 2022, ICE admitted that it had “no records” on 377,980 illegal immigrants. Aliens, their true identities often unknown, have vanished, and no one in authority knows how to locate them.

ICE had previously released erroneous and misleading ATD information. At a private function attended by open borders advocates, ICE willfully disclosed inflated data which showed an over 18,000 percent discrepancy in data shared with the public on those not tracked with any technology. Another roughly 600 percent difference in publicly disclosed data was falsely shared about those with GPS tracking data.

In June, the General Accounting Office, whose mission it is to provide, at the request of congressional committees or subcommittees, timely, fact-based, nonpartisan analysis, recommended that ATD administrators take ten executive action steps to become more credible. Among GAO’s suggestions were that ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations unit (ERO) should develop a mechanism to record the ATD supervision reviews.

Another GAO proposal was that the ICE director, currently Acting Director Tae Johnson, should include accurate information on absconsions of both active and unenrolled participants’ population when externally reporting the ATD’s absconsion information. ICE concurred with all ten recommendations, but as of today – six months later – it’s not completed a single one of the ten steps.

ATD, as currently managed – or perhaps as intentionally mismanaged – is ineffective and represents a significant risk to the public. The unknown locations of thousands of illegal aliens and ICE’s dismantling to minimize arrests and deportations present serious dangers. Inevitably, the result will be more criminal tragedies.