Written by Raul Pinto and Rebekah Wolf of the American Immigration Council

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published the Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) implementation of Alternative to Detention Programs (ATD) on March 17. ATD programs provide noncitizens in removal proceedings the ability to remain in their communities as their cases progress through the immigration court system instead of being detained.

The PIA—a government document that describes potential privacy issues for all new or substantially changed technology that collects, uses, disseminates, or maintains personally identifiable information, and how agencies plan to mitigate these issues—contains insightful information about three particular ATD programs that ICE has been implementing.

The three ATD programs include:

  1. The Intensive Supervision Appearance – The ISAP, which uses technology such as GPS monitoring, facial verification, and voice recognition to ensure that participants comply with conditions of release.
  2. The Young Adult Case Management – The YACM, which ICE will launch in 2023 in 16 cities nationwide to ensure that 18- and 19-year-olds follow conditions of release. It will assist young adults with accessing community services (instead of using electronic monitoring) to promote compliance with reporting requirements, court hearings, and removal orders.
  3. The Case Management Pilot Program – The CMPP seeks to provide voluntary case management services to adults without monitoring technology. This includes legal orientations, mental health services, and connections to social services, administered by local community organizations and local government entities.

All three programs allow individuals to avoid the cruelty of detention and remain with loved ones as their cases progress. But ATDs must be closely scrutinized. They are subject to the collection of very sensitive information by ICE without meaningful alternatives, since failure to agree to these terms can lead to immigration detention.

Due to the risks inherent in ICE’s use of tracking technology, ISAP has garnered extensive public attention. Notably, ISAP has been a part of the immigration enforcement apparatus for almost two decades. At the end of last year, enrollment in ATDs reached a peak of over 377,000 people. Historically, ICE has used ankle monitors to track participants’ movement to make sure they attend important appointments such as check-ins with the agency or immigration court dates. More recently, the agency started using a smart phone app to accomplish this goal.

The PIA describes the sensitive nature of the data collected by this process. For example, the ATD Case Managers, who often are employees of government contractors and not ICE officers, can collect individuals’ photos and voice print samples. Some of this information is then passed on to government databases where it is stored for up to 75 years. ISAP also requires participants to provide information about family members and friends who may be contacted when ICE can’t locate participants at a given time.

The PIA does describe, however, ways ICE has attempted to mitigate some of the concerns. For example, the app used by ISAP participants should not give case managers or ICE officers access to other features of participants’ phones such as their contacts’ information or emails. The PIA also claims that ICE does not use the GPS location function to continuously track participants’ movements in real time, but rather case managers are simply notified when participants venture into a location that violates the conditions of release.

One of DHS’ main justifications for the collection of this data is that participants consent to provide this information to the agency. But how consensual is it really when the only viable option is to face the horrific conditions at an ICE detention facility?

The PIA’s description of the ISAP also raises serious questions about what participants are being told at the point of enrollment. The PIA describes the goal of ATD programs as “reducing friction with the immigration process and provide and/or facilitate referrals and access to services in the community.” While the YACMP and CMPP are tailored to provide participants with community services, ISAP categorically fails to do that. Only time will tell whether the focus of YACMP and CMPP is to provide services or just monitor participants.

The government’s PIA about ATD programs is a welcome development. The PIA should serve as a tool to hold ICE accountable, but more transparency is needed to ensure that DHS lives up to its goals as the agency implements the programs.