Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Illegal immigrants awaiting deportation hearings are being monitored by electronic ankle bracelets under a federal pilot program that is expected to relieve prison overcrowding nationwide and save taxpayers millions of dollars.

The electronic monitoring devices were first tested with six participants in Anchorage, Alaska. The program moved to Detroit and expanded to more than 50 participants. This week, the experiment moves to Miami and adds 100 illegal immigrants.

Led by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), under the Homeland Security Department, the detention and removal program determines which aliens have no violent or criminal records, making them low-flight risks and eligible to participate.

“The biggest problem is that we don’t have enough detention space for everyone who is apprehended,” said Anthony Tangeman, director for the Office of Detention and Removal Operations.

“Traditional detention is expensive, and we believe there are other ways to make sure people show up for hearings or removal, if given the final order. Our goal is to remove all removable aliens.”

On average, 190,000 illegal immigrants are held in detention every day. The cost to jail each one is more than $53,000 a year. The cost of the bracelet — not including the undetermined amount of monitoring fees — is $3.18. The comparative annual cost would be a minimum of $570,000 for the bracelets, or more than $10 billion for detention.

The pilot program will start small, with more than 2,000 aliens.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and a leading critic of lax immigration enforcement, said he was not aware of the program but that he is “intrigued” and “ecstatic” about its possibilities.

“It sounds like an efficient law enforcement tool and, on the other hand, signals a change in attitude, which I find both refreshing and encouraging,” Mr. Tancredo said. “It sounds like the most significant example that we may have a change in attitude over there from the old Immigration and Naturalization Service.”

ADT Security Services is monitoring the bracelets to ensure the wearer remains within a specific area and alerts law enforcement if the bracelet is tampered with or leaves the area. Parole officers also will be assigned to each case and will conduct site visits.

It can take as long as 10 years for an immigration judge to hear an appeal of a removal order, said Garrison Courtney, ICE spokesman.

“Essentially, we are looking for better ways to use space and see how we can monitor people better when they are released from detention so they don’t become absconders,” Mr. Courtney said. “It’s cost-efficient.”

About 400,000 illegal aliens are “absconders,” who have been ordered to report for deportation and did not do so.

“The urgency of implementing this type of program is very evident to us. We can’t detain everyone, and we don’t have the resources to keep track of them. It’s very easy when they are released on their own recognizance or on bond to just abscond,” Mr. Tangeman said.

After the Florida test is concluded in six months, federal officials plan to extend the program to Baltimore; Philadelphia; St. Paul, Minn.; Denver; Kansas City, Kan.; San Francisco; and Portland, Ore. The ICE is also partnering with industry to expand the program and looking at using Global Positioning System technology.

Mr. Tancredo said he will do his part to help the program succeed “by making sure Congress stays out of this.”

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