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McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Three dozen Democrats in Congress are asking for millions of dollars for the Department of Homeland Security to expand a migrant case management program that assists asylum-seekers living in the United States without detention or technical surveillance.

The House members — including several from the border states of California, Texas and Arizona — have sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget asking for $20 million in the President’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget proposal to expand the Case Management Pilot Program (CMPP), which is under the Department of Homeland Security.

The program is designed to pair asylum-seekers with nonprofits to help them navigate legal and social challenges as they go through immigration court proceedings while living in the United States.

“Case management programs have proven highly effective to ensure that individuals can navigate immigration proceedings and comply with the process while reducing our reliance on immigration detention. Moreover, case management is more cost-effective and humane compared to immigration detention,” according to the letter sent Thursday. “Investment in case management is crucial to reduce our reliance on immigration detention while ensuring that individuals who lack community ties and would benefit from additional assistance have assistance to comply with immigration proceedings.”

The Fiscal Year 2023 budget included $20 million for the program, but lawmakers say DHS has been slow to utilize the funds and fully roll out the program.

Instead, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP) and Alternatives to Detention Program (ATD) have been ramped up in the past couple of years, they say.

“Those seeking asylum at our southwest border are often asked to navigate an ever-changing system that requires multiple agencies, while also adapting to unfamiliar circumstances,” U.S. Rep. Nanette Barragán, of California, said in a statement. “The Case Management Pilot Program provides them with access to critical information and support to navigate these challenges that they may not otherwise have. It is critical that DHS prioritize this program and that the necessary funds are provided for this program to succeed.” 

The ATD programs require asylum-seekers to either wear ankle monitors, report regularly via telephonic reporting or download the SmartLINK app to check in with ICE officials on a regular basis.

Most migrants in ATD are put in the SmartLINK program, which allows ICE officers to see real-time images of a migrant’s location, and sends migrants notifications of upcoming court dates and meetings.

“Although alternatives to detention are intended to reduce reliance on detention, ICE’s expansion of ISAP prior to the COVID-19 outbreak led to an increase among individuals subject to ICE surveillance through physical incarceration and electronic surveillance. We are concerned as ICE continues to return to regular operations, ICE will continue to expand the use of ISAP as it also ramps up detention,” the lawmakers wrote.

As of Jan. 28, a record 324,554 individuals were in ICE’s Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program, according to data collected by the nonprofit Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) of Syracuse University.

(TRAC Graphic)

For the first time, this TRAC data has included a category of “no tech,” which means some asylum-seekers put in ATD are not being surveilled via technical devices.

“Community-based alternatives to detention like CMPP are the preferred approach to processing immigrants,” the lawmakers wrote.

According to the DHS website, the agency endorses CMPP, writing: “Alternatives to Detention is an important tool used by DHS for individuals and families as they await the outcome of immigration proceedings. This new congressionally directed pilot will supplement existing Alternatives to Detention programs run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and will inform best practices moving forward.”

The agency says CMPP funds will be awarded to nonprofits that assist migrants by providing the following: mental health services; human and sex trafficking screening; legal orientation programs; cultural orientation programs; connections to social services; and departure planning and reintegration services for individuals returning to their home countries.