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Leaked ICE doc shows 'Alternatives to Detention' program has 'little value' but 'significant expense'

EXCLUSIVE: A draft Trump-era report by immigration concluded that the “Alternatives to Detention” program, which has seen a significant increase in enrollments in recent years and whose population has since more than doubled under the Biden administration, has “little value,” is of “significant expense” and saw the vast majority of illegal immigrants enrolled in the program for their entire immigration proceedings eventually abscond.

The 2020 draft report to Congress on the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP), obtained by Fox News via a source within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is a scathing assessment of the program which has expanded significantly since its formation in 2004 by Congress, and continues to be used today.


In FY 2015, there were approximately 48,000 enrollments in the program, that rose sharply to 179,552 in FY 2019. According to current ICE data, there are currently over 216,000 active participants in the program as of April 2022, that’s up from an average daily population of approximately 90,000 in FY 20. According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, there were about 86,000 active participants in January 2021.

ICE recently said in a court filing that its numbers may triple in the months ahead as it faces what it calls a “historic” border surge.

Sept 25, 2019: ICE agents make arrests in Revere, Massachusetts.  

Sept 25, 2019: ICE agents make arrests in Revere, Massachusetts.  
(Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)

The program uses various forms of case management and technology — including GPS monitoring via ankle bracelets, phone check-ins and smart-phone apps, to monitor about 5% of the illegal immigrants who are on the “non-detained docket,” meaning that while they are in the country illegally, they are not in ICE detention. To be eligible, immigrants must be over 18, “effectively removable” from the U.S. and in some stage of the process. Approximately 75% of those enrolled currently are enrolled in the SmartLINK program, which has migrants check in and communicate using an app on a phone or other device.

ICE has said that supervision and the technology that is assigned to participants is based upon criteria including “current immigration status; criminal history; compliance history; community or family ties; being a caregiver or provider; medical conditions; and other humanitarian factors.”

The “predecisional” report, which looked at ISAP from FY 2016-FY 2019, stressed that ISAP is “not a substitute for detention; it is an alternative to release without supervision.” 

“The only effective means of ensuring compliance with a court order, to include an individual’s departure from the United States at their end of their immigration proceedings (if ordered removed by an immigration judge), is through the use of detention,” it says.

The report found that in FY 2018 and part of FY 2019, 38% of ICE’s removals under ISAP required illegal immigrants to be taken into custody to remove them from the country.


ICE report on ISAP by Fox News

Additionally, the report said that while the average time for immigration court proceedings is about five years, ISAP participants only spend about 14-18 months in the program — “which means the vast majority of participants are not in the program through the completion of their immigration proceedings.” According to ICE’s currently stats, the average time in the program is currently just over 14 months.

As a result, data on compliance with court appearances relies mostly on early court dates, when they are enrolled in ISAP and when there is little fear of deportation. By final hearings, where the decision to deport them is made, most immigrants are no longer enrolled in ISAP. As a result, ICE looked at data of a subsection of participants who remained on the program through the entirety of their immigration “lifecycles” – which ended with them being granted permission to stay, ordered removed, or absconding.

Among those participants, the agency found that absconsion rates — which ICE says includes those who cut off an ankle bracelet, delete their cell phone application, fail to return calls, ignored contact attempts, or who the U.S. government is otherwise unable to locate — were extremely high. Over the time period the report covered (from FY15 to part of FY 20), the average absconsion rate was 84%. Of the 47,905 enrolled for their full immigration lifecycle, 40,300 absconded.


“In FY 19, nearly 90 percent of this full immigration lifecycle group absconded [14,385] and are now fugitive aliens believed to be living within the United States,” the report said, adding that absconsion rates increased dramatically each year.

“This data illustrate that alternatives to detention are not a replacement for detention and that continuing to release aliens prior to the conclusion of their immigration case will not be successful in creating compliance with the law,” the report said.

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The report also said that since ISAP’s inception in 2004, of the 364,62 enrolled, “over 21,000 aliens enrolled in ISAP have been subsequently convicted or charged for a criminal act.” In FY 2019, of the 88,280 enrolled in the program, 912 had pending charges during their enrollment and 227 had convictions.

“These crimes have created victims, and all victimization indicated here would not have occurred had the alien remained in detention,” the report said.

The program has also grown in terms of its cost to the taxpayer. In 2005, it costs just under $21 million a year. By 2014, the cost was $91 million, and by 2019 it was over $258 million.

“Since the creation of ISAP in 2004, the U.S. taxpayer has spent more than $1.46 billion (not adjusted for inflation) to monitor a small segment of the illegal alien population, a significant portion of which become absconders upon release from detention,” the report said in a sharp assessment of the program.

“ICE finds little value in this significant expense and concludes that increased detention is the only way to ensure compliance with the immigration court system for the majority of illegal aliens in the United States,” it said.


The report found that the program had grown both due to the increase of apprehensions at the border, and “because of Congress’ decision to fund ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) detention space at lower than requested levels and fund ISAP at higher levels.”

The report said that it was possible to make ISAP more effective with more resources. But, without additional detention bed space, more staff in fugitive operations, and “dedicated legal staff at ICE and the Department of Justice” who can prosecute those who destroy property, “ISAP will continue to be an expensive program that provides nominal benefits.”

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