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McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The federal government has placed a record number of migrants in the Alternatives to Detention program, which is a way to monitor asylum-seekers without having to incarcerate them, according to new data.

The latest data shows there are 150,755 migrant families and single individuals currently being monitored by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under the Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program, according to Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University.

This is the most in the history of the program since it began in 2004, Austin Kocher, a TRAC researcher told Border Report on Wednesday.

Austin Kocher is a researcher with TRAC of Syracuse University. (TRAC Photo)

“Alternatives to Detention is often considered preferable for immigrants, because being held in detention creates barriers to procedural justice, such as making it more difficult to obtain legal counsel. ATD is also cheaper for the government than detention. However, immigration attorneys and advocates have also described negative consequences to clients on ATD, such as leading to frequent and disruptive virtual check-ins and feeling constantly watched by the government, which can be traumatic for people fleeing government persecution,” Kocher said.

The program is described by ICE as a “noncitizen compliance tool” and is monitored by the agency’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) division.

The ATD program utilizes various forms of technology, and check-in visits to monitor the whereabouts of asylum-seekers who have legally been released into the United States and are awaiting immigration proceedings. According to ICE’s website, migrants can either be given global positioning system (GPS) tracking devices, placed in telephonic reporting (TR), or assigned a smartphone application (SmartLINK) as well as office and/or home visits. 

Graphic by TRAC

TRAC reports that most migrants placed in ATD are assigned a SmartLINK app that connects to their cellphones and records their locations. The latest data received and analyzed by TRAC is from Dec. 18.

In August 2020, during the Trump administration, there were over 86,000 migrants in ATD. But according to ICE, the agency had the resources to monitor up to 100,000 individuals. That means 5% of the 3.3 million migrants released into the United States could have been monitored via technology.

During the Biden administration, the numbers put in ATD greatly increased. By June, over 100,000 migrants were monitored via ATD, and there was a swift uptick in those enrolled in the program in the fall, according to TRAC data.

From Nov. 20 to Dec. 18 over 10,000 migrants were put in ATD. Other data findings include: Over 12,000 were put in the program in Newark, New Jersey; 11,500 in Los Angeles; 10,000 in Miami; 8,700 in Harlingen, Texas; 7,000 in El Paso; 8,200 in Detroit; and 4,500 in Atlanta

Sandra Sanchez can be reached at ssanchez@borderreport.com.