It may not have garnered that much attention nationally, but in New Jersey, Republican presidential candidate Governor Chris Christie stirred some new waves and deepened anxiety amongst the immigrant community in the Garden State with his recent remarks. In the last week of August, he announced his plan to devise a tracking system that would follow foreign nationals around in a manner similar to the way FedEx tracks its packages. He furthered the FedEx comparison by stating his desire to actually consult with FedEx chief executive Frederick W. Smith to create a system prototype.
Surprisingly, Governor Christie’s FedEx-style immigrant tracking idea is not new. The use of GPS tracking devices for aliens awaiting scheduled removal proceedings Immigration has been utilized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)-not without controversy-for years now. In 2009, a company called BI Incorporated signed a five-year contract with ICE to monitor immigrants in proceedings or scheduled to be removed across the country. Their various methods of monitoring include unplanned home inspections, office visits, and GPS tracking. Recently, Homeland Security launched an experimental GPS tracking program at the end of 2014 called RGV 250 that tracks people apprehended along the border. The agency claims that the program will help families avoid unnecessary detention.
Alternatives to Detention: Homeland Security’s Pilot Program
Sparked by recent criticism surrounding the use of detention centers for immigrant families throughout Texas, ICE designed a program called the aforementioned “RGV 250” in 2014. The program is based on using GPS ankle bracelets to decrease the use of detention for illegal and undocumented families. The logic is that officials can screen illegal immigrants for flight risk possibility and potential threat to public safety. Individuals and families thought to be at an increased risk for fleeing, or who may pose a threat to public safety, can be electronically tracked to ensure adherence to rules set by immigration officials. If the families report to officials as ordered, their tracking devices may be removed.
Although there is some controversy surrounding RGV 250, the program was surprisingly initiated following a meeting between Homeland Security and immigrant advocates. It was formulated as a possible solution to the overuse of detention centers for parents and children. However, criticism for the program has arisen following the release of reports that look at statistics of GPS use for immigrants compared to those for convicted criminals. Out of a group of approximately 21,000 immigrants, 29% were required to wear GPS bracelets. During that same time frame, and with a similarly-sized group, less than 1% of convicted criminals were required to wear GPS bracelets upon release. Advocates for immigrant-rights are concerned about the negative psychological effects of having to wear a GPS tracking device, including depression, withdrawal, and even suicide. Additionally, advocates point to the disproportionate amount of pregnant women and mothers, with little to no flight risk, who are being required to wear tracking devices.
In spite of the controversy surrounding the use of tracking devices, if the RGV 250 program proves to be effective after the initial time period, Homeland Security plans on expanding. Cost comparisons show that the Alternatives to Detention program, of which the RGV 250 program is one component, is the least expensive option for monitoring illegal immigrants, at $3.50 per day. Other reporting programs have been reported to cost approximately $4.28 per day, and detention expenses account for an estimated $119 a day, per alien. On the other hand, another three-year pilot program studied less-invasive monitoring methods. It found that the use of regular phone calls, court date reminders, and referrals for legal help are much less costly than detention, and nearly double the number in compliance rate.
Putting the statistics and politics aside, the reality is that ankle bracelets and government monitoring are not going away, notwithstanding the many legitimate concerns they raise. This is quite deplorable, given the many human rights issues involved here. Individuals coming into the US-whether illegal or not–should not, in all fairness, be compared to packages and parcels. According to Governor Christie’s proposal, nearly all visitors to the US would be tracked, which is quite different from the current scheme where undocumented aliens are monitored. Surely most Americans would object if they were similarly tracked upon entering another country for vacation. Moreover, the purpose of Fed-ex tracking its packages is to presumably ensure that senders and intended recipients can check the status of a delivery. It was not and is not intended as an enforcement tool. This type of program could easily send the country down in an Orwellian slippery slope where all residents, regardless of their immigration status could be tracked and monitored.