Twelve years ago, Immigration and Customs Enforcement initiated the use of ankle monitors on immigrants. After the large influx of Central American asylum seekers in 2014, the use increased dramatically.
According to authorities, close to 70,000 Central American refugees arrived at the U.S. border in 2014. Many were incarcerated in South Texas detention centers, while others were offered the option of wearing an ankle monitor as a condition of being released.
Within one year, approximately 23,000 immigrants were being monitored by that method. That number climbed to 60,000 in 2016.
According to ICE, the ankle devices are an efficient way to make certain that immigrants show up for their court dates without having to detain them.
ICE reported that during the past two years, 99 percent of monitored immigrants have appeared at their hearings. ICE also says that compared to detention, the monitors are far less expensive to operate and maintain.
Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based group that opposes private prisons, says ankle monitors don’t address the underlying problem.
“On a systems level, it’s not accomplishing the goal of reducing the number of people in detention, or making our immigration system a more humane one,” he said.
Because many immigrants are held for months before being released with the ankle monitors, the devices aren’t fulfilling their goal as alternatives to detention. In October 2016, the number of detainees skyrocketed to a record high of 42,000.
BI Inc., a privately owned company, has a five-year contract with ICE to run the federal government’s program for alternatives to detention. BI Inc. is owned by parent company GEO Group, a private prison company that runs numerous detention centers.