Jun 29, 2021 - Politics & Policy

ICE eyes new ways to track migrants

A migrant family is seen looking at the setting sun while awaiting processing at the U.S.-Mexico border.

A migrant family awaits processing after crossing the Rio Grande last week. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The Biden administration is exploring ways to provide non-detention tracking and services for as many as 100,000 migrant families and 18- to 21-year-olds each year, according to a new government request.

Why it matters: The request for information by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reveals the kinds of options the Biden administration is considering to avoid detaining migrants.

  • The administration has gotten flak for using the Trump-era Title 42 public health order to keep families and adults from entering the country on the basis of controlling the spread of the coronavirus.
  • Axios previously reported the administration planned to eliminate Title 42 by July 31.
  • Distinguishing 18- to 21-year-olds from the rest of the migrant single adult migrant population, as proposed by the contract request, is unusual.
  • And beyond families and young adults, the program could be used for "other vulnerable populations," according to the ICE request.

Be smart: A request for information is an early part of the process, and ICE could decide not to award a contract.

Between the lines: Many families who cross the border are released into the U.S. after passing an initial screening for asylum.

  • Some are tracked with cellphones or other devices, but otherwise, there's little to no enforcement to ensure they show up for their immigration court hearings.
  • The Biden administration has already tried to deal with the mushrooming migrant numbers by converting family detention centers into rapid-processing centers.
  • A court order from 2016 prevents kids from being held in detention spaces for more than 20 days — even if they're with their parents.
  • That makes wholesale family detention a less useful tactic, as most immigration cases can't be completed during that time.

What to watch: The proposed program could provide services to about 100,000 migrants a year in Boston, Orlando, San Antonio, El Paso, Houston, New York, Phoenix, Dallas, San Diego, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, Denver, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, according to details in the request.

  • ICE also is looking for ways to provide low-cost or free legal representation to migrants and ensure school enrollment, as well as provide other resources to help them get situated in the U.S. while awaiting their court hearings.
  • ICE already has an alternative-to-detention contract with a group owned by the for-profit prison company GEO Group. It can serve 90,000 to 100,000 people daily.
  • One person familiar with the new request told Axios officials are looking for non-governmental organizations not affiliated with for-profit prisons to run the new program.

By the numbers: The number of border encounters with migrating families remains high compared to past years but has fallen since March.

  • It's also remained well below the record numbers from 2019 during the past two months.
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