Technology

Immigrant groups sue ICE for information on alternative detention programs

Associated Press/David J. Phillip

A coalition of immigrant rights groups filed a lawsuit Thursday seeking information from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about the agency’s Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP), a so- called alternative to detention program that has ballooned during the Biden administration.

The groups — Community Justice Exchange, Just Futures Law and Mijente — initially filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with questions about the program in September.

The agency did not answer the questions despite the requirement that federal agencies respond to FOIA requests within 20 business days absent “unusual circumstances,” prompting Thursday’s lawsuit in Northern California federal district court.

“ICE hasn’t even acknowledged our request,” said Sejal Zota, the legal director and co-founder of Just Futures Law. “It felt like we should file a lawsuit in part because we have so many unanswered questions… but I think also in part because of the exponential growth of the program.”

Roughly 90,000 individuals were enrolled in ISAP at the beginning of President Biden’s term in 2021. As of last month that number has swelled to over 200,000.

The program has been billed a humanitarian alternative to physical detention for monitoring immigrants in removal proceedings.

Critics say that the program is hardly an alternative at all, doing little to divert migrants away from ICE’s brick-and-mortar facilities while causing mental and physical harm.

“Electronic monitoring can be all-encompassing, knowing that your every move is being monitored,” the lawsuit reads. “It makes it difficult to obtain and maintain employment, sustain relationships with family members and friends, and causes social isolation.”

ISAP requires enrolled individuals to either wear ankle monitors, use a voice reporting system or download an app called SmartLINK. All three tools are operated by BI Incorporated, a subsidiary of the private prison trust the GEO Group that has been awarded every ISAP contract since the program’s inception in 2004.

The third of those three options, SmartLINK, has become the dominant tool of the program, with roughly 70 percent of individuals in ISAP on the app.

Very little is known about the application, including what data it can collect and how that data is being handled, something which immigrants rights group are eager to find out.

BI’s privacy policy for SmartLINK says that it shares info “with third parties in connection with your community supervision,” but does not specify which entities that could include.

Ana Maria Rivera-Forastieri, the migrant justice organizing director at Community Justice Exchange, told The Hill that people enrolled in the program have expressed fears that the app could be recording their conversations with loved ones.

Immigrants in the program have also expressed concern that the program is tracking their location constantly, according to Zota, especially since ankle monitor tracking has been used by agents in the past to establish patterns of behavior and where people work. This information could easily be used to conduct workplace raids.

The lawsuit, filed by Catherine Crump from the Samuelson clinic at U.C. Berkeley School of Law on behalf of the groups, calls on the court ot compel ICE and the Department of Homeland Security to immediately disclose the records requested about ISAP.

That includes information on what data the SmartLINK app collects, how long that data is being retained and who, if anyone, it is being shared with.

The request also asks for information about any DHS enforcement operations that used data collected through SmartLINK.

The Hill has reached out to the DHS for comment on the suit.

The groups pushing for more information about ISAP hope that information will help rally support for ending the program.

“If we obtain information that’ll be helpful to push lawmakers, push the public to reject the use of those technologies,” Zota said.

“Ultimately, we believe that the alternatives to detention programs should end and ICE should be abolished,” Rivera-Forastieri said. “And finding out information about another nefarious program that they’re running is another way for us to show that this agency should be abolished.”

Tags Biden Department of Homeland Security ICE immigration ISAP Joe Biden SmartLINK Supervision Appearance Program

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