One of the many troubling things to emerge from the threatened deportation of the wife and stepsons of Muni bus driver Charles Washington is the extent to which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is using electronic monitoring bracelets to track immigrants--and is turning to private contractors to deliver these services.
Take the Washingtons’ case. Charles Washington told reporters that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told him they would release his teenage stepson, if his wife Tracey, went to ICE’s Sansome Street office in San Francisco and agreed to wear an electronic anklet (pictured below).
Tracey Washington agreed to the deal, worried about her 13-year old son, who had spent close to a week in detention at juvenile hall, after he got into a fight at school over 46 cents, and who was now in the hands of federal immigration authorities. And she had cause to worry. The feds have been known to transfer teenage immigrants arrested in San Francisco to detention facilities in Florida, Virginia and Oregon, while their deportation is pending.
So, the Washingtons hurried down to Sansome Street to retrieve their son. And, there Tracey Washington was given deportation orders for herself and her son, and an electronic monitoring device, which contains a GPS device to monitor her movements 24/7, was placed around her ankle.
Tracey says the device was too tight at first, and, though it has since been adjusted, wearing it makes her feel as if she has committed a serious crime. But so far, no one in her family has actually been found guilty of a crime in this Kafkaesque episode.
Instead, her 13-year-old son has been charged with felony robbery, assault and extortion, charges that sound serious but have yet to be adjudicated in a juvenile justice court, and that were made in the wake of a schoolyard fight, which did not involve weapons, after the parent of the victim called the police.
But these felony charges are the reason why a juvenile probation officer called ICE, who picked up the boy, and, within 5 hours, released him to his mother, once they’d locked an electronic monitoring device on her ankle.
As for the question of the Washingtons’ visa overstay, which is ICE’s grounds for the anklet, the couple say they called the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (US CIS), not once, but twice, two days after they got married in April 2009, when Tracey, who met Charles on vacation six years ago, was midway through a 90-day visa waiver.
The couple say they were given misinformation on the phone about the urgency of applying for a green card, and that’s how they came to be only at the beginning of that process when their son got nabbed—a lag that Charles Washington attributes to the time it took for his family to save up the thousands of dollars that green card applications cost.
And apparently there is no way for the Washingtons or the US government to verify what happened when the couple called US CIS, and spoke to an operator. US CIS spokesperson Sharon Rummery told the Guardian that it is impossible to ascertain if a contractor with the US government misinformed the family.
'I can't say that it's true or not, because it was a private conversation between one of the operators who works on our customer service line," Rummery said. "Our operators are highly trained and are backed up by our trained officers," Rummery continued, confirming that the operators are contractors, not US CIS staff.
Either way, Tracey Washington is left wearing an anklet. And as a hard-working, bus-driving US citizen, her husband Charles is not pleased that his tax dollars are being put to use in a way that leaves his wife stressed and feeling like a criminal.
“It’s my belief they are wasting tax payer money,” Washington said, eight days after US ICE granted his wife and stepson 60-day deportation reprieve. “With all the publicity this case has received, and the fact that our green card application has been sent in, I don’t see why she needs to be on the anklet. Everything that immigration has requested, we have complied with.”
So, just how widely spread is the use of anklets to track immigrants?
In 2002, federal immigration authorities created a $3 million Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program, to ensure that “aliens released from detention appear for their court hearings,” according to a 2010 ICE report.Fast forward to 2010 and the program’s FY 2010 budget is set at $69.9 million.
And somewhere along the way, the program began requiring immigrants who are in the process of applying for residency to wear electronic monitoring ankle bracelets 24/7—a requirement otherwise reserved for rapists, child molesters and other convicted criminals on parole.
This pilot program, which began in eight cities, including San Francisco, has since grown to a nationwide multimillion opportunity for contractors and now involves at least 30 cities: Atlanta, Charlotte, Baltimore, Boston, Hartford, Buffalo, Chicago, Kansas City, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, El Paso, Houston, Los Angeles, Delray Beach, Miami, Orlando, Newark, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, San Diego, St. Paul and Washington.
In July 2009, DHS/ICE’s office of Detention and Removal Operations (DRO) awarded a $372 million, 5-year contract to BI Incorporated, a Boulder Colorado-based company, to provide support services for its Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP) 11, as the federal government previously called its electronic monitoring program.
G4S Government Services of Atlanta, Georgia, which held the previous ISAP’s pilot contract, and put in a S489 million bid for ISAP 11, protested the BI award, arguing that DHS’ evaluation and BI’s price proposal were “unreasonable.”
Either way, DHS’ “statement of work” documents, which were posted online as part of that contract bid, suggest that ICE plans to use ATD on an even wider basis, in future.
“Approximately, 32,000 persons are held in secure detention by DRO each day,” the contract’s statement of work (SOW) section states, noting that this figure includes “aliens in the United States who are in violation of the Immigration and Nationality ACT (INA) who pose a threat to community safety, national security, and/or may be a flight risk, in addition to those aliens required to be detained under specific provisions of the INA.”
“Limited detention capacity and an increasing detainee population coupled with the need to lower alien absconder rates have sparked national efforts over the past several years to integrate into DRO’s general practices the use of various alternatives to detention for aliens who do not require mandatory detention in accordance with the INA,” the contract continues. “Alternatives to detention offer the prospect of a considerable cost savings over secure detention for eligible aliens.”
“Depending on available funding during the execution of the ISAP 11 contract, DRO intends to expand its ISAP coverage,” the contract notes. An attached appendix shows a list of 165 cities in which the program would operate nationwide. In addition to San Francisco and Los Angeles, California cities on the list include Bakersfield, San Diego, El Centro, Fresno, Imperial, Lancaster, Lompoc, Sacramento, San Jose, San Pedro, Santa Ana, Stockton, and Ventura.
Under the current contract, BI was expected to be fully prepared with sufficient staff and equipment to fulfill all statement of work requirements for 16,750 ISAP II slots, within two months of assuming control of the program. San Francisco was expected to fill 850 of these slots, putting it in fourth place behind Los Angeles (3,400 slots), New York, (1,500 slots) and Washington, D.C., (1,025).
And by the end of the five-year contract, the numbers of slots are expected to rise to 27,237 slots—a 10,487 increase, along with a steady increase in participating cities. Under those estimates, San Francisco is expected to have 957 slots five years from now,
The federal government touts ISAP, which relies on telephonic reporting, unannounced home visits, and regular face-to-face interviews, as well as electronic GPS monitoring devices, as a “cost-effective alternative to detention for aliens being processed through the Immigration Court system.”
ICE’s Lori Haley stressed that the program, with its focus on alternatives to detention, is part of the department’s “commitment to immigration reform.”
“Our mission is to ID non-citizens here without legal status and move them through the immigration process how the court sees fit,” Haley said.
She also stressed that the anklet program is preferable to detention and is suitable for folks with families who are not posing a danger to their community.
“We also found that as people get closer to the conclusion of the process, they may need a stronger level of monitoring,” Haley added, alluding to the reaction of folks on realizing that they are going to be deported after all.
These statistics paint a perhaps surprising picture to the average American, who likely wasn’t aware that there are thousands of immigrants in the US, who haven’t committed a serious crime, yet are walking around wearing these onerous, privacy-invading devices, hidden beneath their pants, or while they shower, or go to bed, while they await a ruling from the courts on their request to stay here permanently.
And these numbers are only going to grow bigger, if ICE has its way.
“Depending how long an alien remains in the ATD program and the number of individuals enrolled in the ATD program, implementing ATD nationwide would require between $88 million and $513 million,” ICE stated in its 2010 report to Congress. “The most realistic scenario for expansion requires a reduction in the average length in the ATD program to 180 days, down from the current average of 310 days. Reducing the average length on the program requires significant coordination within the Department of Justice, Executive Office for Immigration Review.”
“310 days in an anklet” sounds like the name of a funny film. Unfortunately for the 800 people in San Francisco, including Tracey Washington, who are apparently walking around wearing these devices in any given year, the situation is not funny, but it is all too real. And is this really the way to reform the federal immigration system in a humane and meaningful way?