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Migrant Justice: ICE Congressional Letter

The Honorable Alejandro Mayorkas

Secretary of Homeland Security

Washington, DC 20528

Dear Secretary Mayorkas:

We write to express our concern over the drastic increase in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP) which relies on punitive surveillance, such as the use of ankle shackles, and facial recognition and geolocation tracking through a mobile application called SmartLINK as an ill-conceived “alternative” to detention.

ICE has excessively deployed ISAP supervision on immigrants who would have otherwise not been detained. Ankle shackles, once a rarity, are now “standard equipment”. Individuals previously considered low risk such as family units, asylum seekers, or pregnant or nursing people are subjected to intensive supervision and for excessive periods of time. Shockingly, ICE’s ISAP program – originally proposed in 2004 as a more “humane” alternative to detention with the goal of reducing the number of detained immigrants – now monitors 182,607 individuals at any given time, making it the largest supervision program of any U.S. law enforcement agency. According to recent reports, DHS is seeking to expand this program to 400,000 individuals by the end of the year and to add house arrest as a supervision condition.

As members of Congress who represent many of the immigrant communities disproportionately impacted by this program, it is important for us to underscore the extreme physical and mental damage that ISAP has on our residents and their families. A recent report found that over 90% of participants experienced physical harm due to ankle shackles including swelling, open wounds, and even permanent scars and electrical shocks. 88% of immigrants in the ISAP program reported the shackles harmed their mental health and an alarming 12% reported experiencing suicidal thoughts. The onerous surveillance and fear of re-detention takes a mental toll, possibly retraumatizing people who are fleeing persecution. Moreover, the restrictive supervision terms and social stigma around ISAP make it difficult for individuals to sustain employment and relationships with family, causing social isolation. Such harms are exacerbated by the extremely long periods of time — an average of 629 days — that ICE requires individuals to be in the program.

Moreover, ICE’s budget for the ISAP program has grown exponentially alongside its budget for immigrant detention. Between 2006 to 2021, ISAP’s budget increased from $28 million to $475 million, while the detention budget increased from $1 billion to $2.8 billion.10 ICE cannot reasonably call ISAP an “alternative to detention” if the program effectively subjects more immigrants to the agency’s supervision while it simultaneously expands formal detention programs. Furthermore, since the program’s start in 2004 ISAP has been operated by B.I. Incorporated (B.I.), a subsidiary of the private prison company GEO Group. ICE’s multi-billion dollar partnership with B.I. is yet another troubling indication that ISAP fits into the broader system of profiting from surveillance and caging, as opposed to providing a proven, community-based approach to serving immigrant communities outside of the walls of immigration detention facilities.

Lastly, we are alarmed by ICE’s rapid enrollment of individuals into the ISAP SmartLINK program, which requires individuals to download a mobile application onto their phone that subjects them to facial recognition, geolocation tracking, and video and voice communication with ICE at certain intervals. Currently around 64% of the people in ISAP (95,782 individuals) are subjected to the SmartLINK program. We have serious concerns over data sharing and privacy of this application including the ability of ICE and B.I. to track individuals in real-time and collect and repurpose the data. SmartLINK’s privacy policy is extremely broad, and this technology has the capability of surveilling not only the subject but also bystanders – including U.S. citizens and individuals with legal status – raising further civil rights concerns and creating a potential for unwarranted surveillance of U.S. residents without just cause, their knowledge or their consent. We already know that data collected from ankle shackles has been used to conduct enforcement and deportation operations.

For the foregoing, we respectfully request that ICE take the following actions or explain why they will not by March 8 th, 2022:

● ICE should significantly reduce the number of individuals subjected to ISAP by conducting a wide scale de-escalation review of its ISAP docket, and adjust its funding request for the program accordingly: ICE should conduct a thorough de-escalation review of its ISAP case docket across all ICE Field Offices. There should be a prosecutorial discretion practice of routine de-escalation for the ISAP docket and a presumption of de-escalation after 90 days in the ISAP program. Ankle shackles and SmartLINK should not be the de facto supervision practice as ICE currently operates. ICE must also consider the prosecutorial discretion requests of individuals or counsel asking for ISAP de-escalation. If ICE will not commit to these policy changes, please explain why in writing.

● ICE should publicly disclose its data and civil liberties policy for the SmartLINK application. The agency should be transparent about what types of data it or B.I. collect or should be allowed to collect on an individual and their surrounding community, and for what purpose. If ICE will not commit to these policy changes, please explain why in writing.

● ICE should reevaluate its ISAP IV contract with B.I. As President Biden indicated earlier this year, private entities should not profit from incarceration. The same applies here — no private entity should profit from surveillance and e-carceration. If ICE will not commit to these policy changes, please explain why in writing. As a nation that values immigrant communities as part of the fabric of our society, we can no longer criminalize immigration and replace brick and mortar prisons with high-tech ones. Instead, we must divert resources from detention programs like ISAP to community-based services that serve the very real needs of our communities.


Members of Congress

Rashida Tlaib

Jesus G. Garcia

Ayanna Pressley

Jamaal Bowman

Judy Chu

Cori Bush

Yvette D. Clarke

J. Luis Correa

James P. McGovern

Danny K. Davis

Grace Meng

Adriano Espaillat

Eleanor Holmes Norton

Sylvia R. Garcia

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Raul Grijalva

Ilhan Omar

Pramila Jayapal

Mark Pocan

Henry C. Johnson, Jr.

Jan Schakowsky

Barbara Lee

Nydia M. Velazquez

Alan S. Lowenthal

Bonniw Watson Coleman