Jared Culver's Picture

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  by  Jared Culver

The Biden Administration's latest budget request includes a reduction in detention beds and in its place they primarily rely on Alternatives to Detention (ATD) where aliens are released and supposedly monitored with technology like ankle bracelets or even smartphone apps. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report detailing that the lax enforcement across the immigration policy sphere extends to internal oversight of their own programs. The report details that while ATD use has more than doubled in the past few years, oversight of the released aliens and the contractors running the program has seen no such expansion. GAO wrote:

"GAO's analysis of ICE contractor data found that the number of individuals enrolled in the ATD program more than doubled from approximately 53,000 in 2015 to 111,000 in 2020. During this period, ICE unenrolled most participants before their immigration proceedings concluded. ICE placed about half of unenrolled participants on monitoring outside of the ATD program and about a quarter absconded (i.e. fled their address and could not be located)."

So as ATD doubled in size within 5 years, the management of the program collapsed. It is not difficult to imagine any program straining to meet the escalating demands presented by doubling the numbers in such a short period of time. Do not yet despair because it gets worse as the Biden Administration has moved to expand ATD as the preferred policy over detention. This GAO report's timeline avoids scrutiny of the Biden Administration, but the failures they outline can only be worse as the expansion of ATD continues apace.

I wrote at the time of Biden's expansion that ATD is only a rational policy if there is no obligation to ensure aliens appear for their removal proceedings. GAO has proven me right. Most aliens are unenrolled before the conclusion of their removal proceedings, and at least a quarter of the ever-expanding program absconded. We do not know the true absconsion rates in ATD because the government doesn't actually do proper review. GAO wrote:

"ICE has not completely presented information on participants who abscond from the ATD program. For example, ICE does not include all relevant participants when calculating absconsion rates. By doing so, ICE could more completely demonstrate program performance related to absconsions and help ensure policymakers have the context needed to appropriately use the information."

Part of this can be explained by the overwhelming numbers for overwhelmed staff. There can also be no doubt that the government is not interested in discovering the truth about the failures of ATD. Given what we know about the incomplete data, it is likely that the absconsion rate is far higher than even GAO found.

It gets worse for the integrity of ATD the more you read. GAO reported:

"From November 2014 through December 2020, our analysis showed that ERO unenrolled the majority of ATD participants--79 percent--from the program during the pre-decision stage of their proceedings. This means that the ATD program did not monitor them through the entire lifecycle of their immigration removal proceedings. Additionally, ERO did not later reenroll most participants it unenrolled from ATD. Only about 3 percent of participants were re-enrolled after being unenrolled. On average, ATD participants remained in the program for just over a year (389 days). ICE officials said that the immigration removal process can take years, and that it is often not cost-effective to keep participants who comply with the terms of their release in the ATD program for the full duration of their removal proceedings."

In short, ATD is sold to the American people as a more humane and cost-effective way to monitor the alien population awaiting conclusion of their removal proceedings, but ATD is largely not used for that process at all in reality. The vast majority of aliens enrolled in ATD are out of the program before the end of their removal proceedings. And many are disappearing into the interior. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is already overwhelmed and running a program that allows the few aliens they actually capture to be easily released in the United States. This is the bureaucratic version of digging a hole to fill it back up again. The government is simply producing a David Copperfield-esque illusion where even hundreds of thousands of aliens encountered at the border are made to disappear through release. After all, if they abscond then ICE can make them a non-priority for enforcement and that's less work for them.

This reality raises the question of the purpose of ATD at all. It is clearly failing if the idea is that it is being used to effectively monitor the alien population. Yet, while the failures are growing and becoming clear, ATD is being expanded and the Biden Administration is seeking to replace detention with ATD as much as possible. Here is what Joe Biden promised during his 2020 campaign:

"But proven alternatives to detention and non-profit case management programs, which support migrants as they navigate their legal obligations, are the best way to ensure that they attend all required immigration appointments. These programs also enable migrants to live in dignity and safety while awaiting their court hearings--facilitating things like doctor visits, social services, and school enrollment for children. Evidence shows that these programs are highly effective and are far less expensive and punitive than detaining families."

This is a pretty good example of how ATD has been sold to an unsuspecting public. As GAO's report clearly finds, this is an absurd fantasy. ATD is clearly not the best way to ensure participation in immigration proceedings as the vast majority are out of the program before their proceedings end. Yet the Biden Administration is aggressively expanding this catch and release program and is seeking to make it national policy at a time the number of illegal immigrants entering the United States is smashing all records. The public is realizing the connection more and more. Certainly the word is spreading around the globe. If you enter the United States illegally, you're not going to be sent home.

The comprehensive dismantling of the immigration enforcement apparatus at this point is staggering. ICE, in particular, has created policies to exempt most aliens from enforcement (including criminal aliens), ended worksite enforcement, vastly expanded "no-go" zones where ICE is not allowed to operate, and expanded the catch-and-release ATD program. And that is just a small sampling of the pervasive unilateral disarmament of the government under Biden in regards to immigration enforcement. It is clear that ICE is law enforcement in name only now. With each month breaking new records for illegal entry, the destruction of ICE leaves the American people wide open for the new entrants. No wonder more and more are trodding across the Biden welcome mat.

This is all in defiance of the law and clear expressed will of the public. The Real Clear Politics average approval for Biden on immigration is at 35%. People paying the price for this insanity are surprisingly not cheering on Biden's "humane" policies. Just recently, in a special election, a Republican was elected in a Texas border district for the first time since Reconstruction. You would think this provides a political slam dunk for Republicans as the midterms approach and Biden is tripling down on immigration policies that create only chaos and crime. However, team captain of the Washington Generals and potential Majority Leader in waiting, Senator John Cornyn was overheard telling a Democratic colleague that immigration reform was on the table. He clarified that he was just joking about selling out Americans drowning in multiple crises (after heavy backlash). Can't say that I get the joke, but Republican Senators have been in talks with Democrats on immigration legislation for a while now. Further evidence that Republicans are not joking comes from reports that their cheap labor lobby donors are lobbying them heavily for immigration reform. We perhaps all will have to laugh with Cornyn just to keep from crying.

JARED CULVER is a Legal Analyst for NumbersUSA

Updated: Tue, Sep 27th 2022 @ 1:59pm EDT

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