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February 23, 2024

Report criticizes widespread electronic monitoring of migrants

WASHINGTON, February 23, 2024   —  A new report from the American Bar Association Commission on Immigration criticizes the federal government’s widespread electronic monitoring of migrants and recommends that the program be curtailed.

The report, “Electronic Monitoring of Migrants: Punitive not Prudent,” was released today and is available online here.

The report was written for the commission by three students with the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law  —  Muskan Momin, Alice Min and Niko Marcich  —  under the supervision of law professor Denise Gilman and with input and guidance from Dora Schriro, special adviser to the ABA Commission on Immigration. It expresses the opinions of the authors and is not the official policy of the ABA. It has not been reviewed or approved by the ABA House of Delegates or the ABA Board of Governors.

Federal authorities say they use ankle bracelets and cell phones with special apps to electronically monitor hundreds of thousands of migrants as an alternative to detention. The report calls this monitoring “de facto detention” that imposes “a significant financial cost on taxpayers and a considerable human toll on the participants and their family members.” Such monitoring is unnecessary, the report says, because most migrants “present neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community to justify either detention or electronic monitoring.”

As currently used, electronic monitoring of migrants is “punitive in nature,” the report says, because it is imposed without objective assessment of need or risk and may violate constitutional guarantees of liberty and due process. Electronic monitoring also violates ABA policy that urges limits on immigration detention and alternatives that are unnecessarily invasive, the authors write.

The report includes nine recommendations to reform the electronic monitoring program. The authors propose that electronic monitoring be “significantly reduced and only used in extraordinary cases” — when a migrant would otherwise be subject to mandatory detention or where there is specific evidence that a migrant poses a substantial flight risk or danger to the community.

Electronic monitoring of migrants began in 2004 and was significantly expanded in recent years. Migrants may be monitored at any time from the moment they reach the U.S. border until they are deported or achieve final permanent status in the United States. As of December 2023, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was electronically monitoring more than 190,000 migrants. A 2022 study showed most of those being monitored were asylum seekers from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

“Electronic monitoring is not used as a true alternative to detention but a net-widening expansion of detention,” the report concludes. “The use of electronic monitoring should be reevaluated and limited.”

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