By Nick Ciolino and Charlotte Cuthbertson
The White House confirmed Wednesday that the administration is giving cell phones to illegal border crossers before releasing them into the United States.
As part of an Alternative to Detention (ATD) program, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is handing out cellphones and ankle monitors meant to track individuals who crossed the border to ensure they show up for scheduled court dates, White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed at a press briefing April 6.
Psaki said Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) takes a biometric voice print of an illegal border crosser before issuing them a phone and releasing them into the United States. She said the federal government is then able to confirm an individual’s voice during a check-in call or track the individual using GPS or facial matching technology with a smartphone or tablet. She said some are also tracked via an ankle bracelet.
The majority of illegal border crossers are being released into the United States with a court date that can be years down the road. Single males are the main population still being expelled.
Most single women and those with families are being released with a cell phone that is used as an alternative to ankle monitors to track their whereabouts, according to an ICE agent who requested to remain anonymous due to fear of repercussions.
Each week, the cell phone sends an alert to the illegal immigrant, who then must take an “immigration selfie” that tags their location, the ICE agent told The Epoch Times.
Colorado-based company BI Incorporated tracks the locations to ensure it’s within 75 miles of the individual’s address on record.
The ATD program is meant to ensure the illegal immigrant turns up for their immigration court hearings without having to be detained in the meantime. However, previous data on ATD programs for illegal immigrants show that a high number abscond at some point during their court proceedings, or afterwards if the outcome for their case is deportation.
Psaki said on Wednesday that nearly 80 percent of illegal aliens released at the border from DHS custody under prosecutorial discretion have either received an initial notice to appear or are still within their 60-day window to report.
“So actually, the vast, vast majority of people are appearing in part [because] we have these monitoring systems in order to do that effectively,” Psaki said.
In the case that an illegal immigrant fails to submit their photo, or is out of the 75-mile range, the agent said the individual “could” get terminated from the program, although such a decision has been rare.
“The supervisor could decide to … send them a letter telling them to come into the [ICE] office—which [we] basically call a ‘run letter’ because nobody comes,” the agent said.
“Is somebody going to look for them? No. Maybe, if in a few years they get arrested and we get a notification, and with whatever priorities we have at the time, if they’re a low priority, nothing happens.”
The Biden administration has narrowed its enforcement priorities for illegal immigrants residing in the United States, shielding most from deportation, including those who have been ordered removed by an immigration judge.
“If it’s a serious enough crime, then once they get convicted, we’ll go and pick him up,” the ICE agent said.
“But if you’re a female, and you have no criminal history, and you have kids, especially if you have a U.S.-born kid, the chances of us trying to go and find you—one in 100,000.”
Given two months, ICE failed to provide The Epoch Times with statistics on how many illegal immigrants are attached to the ATD programs and how many have absconded. BI Incorporated declined to provide the number of cell phones the company has issued for Customs and Border Protection or ICE.
During 2021, many Border Patrol facilities became so overwhelmed that thousands of illegal immigrants were released with a Notice to Report; an honor system that requires the person to check in at their closest ICE facility within 60 days.
Under usual circumstances, an illegal alien released into the United States would be issued a Notice to Appear document that specifies a date and time to appear in court.
“For individuals that are just released with a notification to report to ICE or to show up in court, then our ability to track those folks quite closely is much more limited,” then-acting ICE Director Tae Johnson told Congress during a hearing on May 13, 2021.
In November 2021, ICE sent out 78,000 notices to appear to illegal immigrants who had been previously released, including documents informing them that their case will be processed via deportation proceedings and directing them to report to their closest ICE office.
For those that were placed on an ATD program from October 2020 through March 2021, about 2,700 had absconded, Johnson said. In fiscal year 2020, about 11,000 individuals absconded from the program, he said.
By December 2019, the number of illegal aliens on ICE’s nondetained docket exceeded 3.2 million, according to then-acting ICE director Matthew Albence.
The detained docket is more expensive in the short term, but it’s ultimately more cost effective and more efficient as illegal aliens who are ordered to be removed by an immigration judge are quickly expelled, Albence said at the time.
Albence said family units absconded from the ATD program at a rate of almost 27 percent, more than double the 12.3 percent absconder rate for non-family unit participants.
He said for $200 million, ICE removes about 3,000 people a year on the ATD program, about 1 percent of the total removals. He said if that money was instead used to detain aliens during their court cases, “I could probably remove about 10 times that.”
Border Patrol agents and local officials along the border are bracing for an even greater influx of illegal immigrants as the Biden administration prepares to drop the Title 42 public health provision on May 23.
Title 42 is a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) order that was invoked in March 2020 under President Donald Trump to minimize the spread of COVID-19 by ensuring that only essential travel occurred at U.S. borders.