ICE's Data on Alternatives to Detention Raises Ongoing Quality Concerns + Recap of New Immigration Data
I am back in the office this week for my first relatively traditional work week since November when I started a several-week research trip along the length of the US-Mexico border.
I have several posts about that trip scheduled for this month, but before I get into that, I want to highlight research that TRAC has published over the past month or so that you start the year off with the most current immigration data we have. I was pulling double-duty for some of these reports, working on them while also on the road, but a lot of the work was done by my incredible colleagues with little help from me. Don’t get the wrong impression that this is all my work.
Let’s start with what I think is the most concerning piece of news that I received at the end of 2022.
As you know if you’ve been reading this newsletter over the past year, I have taken a strong interest in understanding the growth of ICE’s use of electronic monitoring. We at TRAC have been tracking the data on what ICE calls its Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program, data that the agency releases publicly on a (more or less) biweekly on its website here. We have been validating that data to the extent we can and making the data, including historic data, available online here.
As I noted in my most recent post (exactly a month ago, sorry!), I noted that ICE had begun relying on GPS ankle monitors again after months of declining usage. The number of migrants on GPS ankle monitors had declined to nearly 10,000 before shooting up again to nearly 60,000. This was a major course change and a concerning finding since the Biden administration has said that it would be drawing down its use of these devices. GPS ankle monitors have come under fire for years for being inhumane. (See this report from the George Washington University Law School, for example.)
But just days after I published that post in early December, DHS informed us that, in fact, the agency had been miscalculating the GPS ankle monitor data that they release to the public. The true numbers, they claimed, were more like 8,000.
60,000 to 8,000. That’s a huge difference. The agency effectively misled the public for months about this data because someone in the agency doesn’t know how to use Excel.
Moreover, ICE’s miscalculation of the data persisted over several months in a way that made it difficult to catch as an error, since, as you’ll note in my previous post, the growth of GPS ankle monitor usage appears to increase in a logical and incrementally way over the course of several rounds of released data. This makes it hard to catch, unlike their many (many, many) other screw-ups with their ATD data that I’ve commented upon back in October 2021 on my website.
We still haven’t received the corrected data for the months of wrong data that ICE released, but we are still hoping to get it.
Due to ICE’s ongoing problem with doing basic math in its mandatory ATD data releases, we have been forced to add a comment to our ATD data that urges the public to be cautious about the quality of ICE’s ATD data. We also noted these concerns in our announcement about updated data in December.
But as Steve Jobs used to say, “There’s just one more thing…”
Even after all of these issues with getting ATD data, TRAC still received a letter back from a FOIA request that the agency could not locate any records at all related to ATD enrollments. (Announcement and letter here.) Extremely concerning! We will appeal, of course, but it boggles the mind to think about what exactly is going on over there at ICE, not just in their FOIA office but in the agency more broadly.
So that’s the update on ATD.
List of Recent TRAC Reports
Here are the other reports that TRAC has published over the past month and a half or so along with their opening paragraph for context.
Quality vs Quantity: How Does Sitting on the Dedicated Docket Impact the Judging Process? (November 16, 2022) Link.
The outcome for asylum seekers has long been influenced by the identity of the immigration judge assigned to hear their case. This has been well documented, including by the annual judge-by-judge reports that TRAC has compiled over the years. The latest addition to this series, updated through FY 2022, documents continuing wide differences. In Arlington, Virginia, judge denial rates ranged from 15 percent to 95 percent. In Boston, judge denial rates varied from 17 percent to 93.5 percent. In Chicago, judge denial rates ranged from 16 percent to 90 percent, while in San Francisco one judge denied just 1 percent of the cases while another denied 95 percent.
ICE Detains More Individuals. (November 21, 2022). Link.
The South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, which currently houses single adults (mostly females) has more than doubled the number of individuals it is holding since September. ICE reports this facility run by CoreCivic now has the largest average daily population of detainees (1,562) in the country. Across its network of detention facilities, the number of people being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement has climbed to just under 30,000. This is the highest recorded since April of 2020. Both those arrested originally by ICE as well as those picked up by Customs and Border Protection at our southwest border have increased in recent months.
Speeding Up the Asylum Process Leads to Mixed Results. (November 29, 2022). Link.
Last year saw a substantial increase in the Immigration Court’s processing of asylum cases. The number of asylum cases decided on their merits rebounded from their prior year’s low, and the number of individuals granted asylum by Immigration Judges reached an all-time high. Grant rates also rose. Total decisions more than doubled from 24,810 in FY 2021, to 51,607 during FY 2022. And the number of individuals granted asylum by Immigration Judges increased from 8,945 to 23,686. This was the largest number of individuals granted asylum in any year in the Immigration Court's history.
A National Assessment of the Biden Administration's Dedicated Docket Initiative. (December 6, 2022). Link.
The Immigration Court's Dedicated Docket (DD) program was created by the Biden administration to speed the processing of families seeking asylum after arriving along the Southwest Border. Over 110,000 DD cases covering each individual in these families have now been assigned to this initiative. To determine how this program is working, this report follows this cohort of nearly 40,000 of these cases that have now been closed.
ICE Posts Wrong Numbers on Alternatives to Detention (ATD) Monitoring. (December 14, 2022). Link.
ICE has informed TRAC that Alternatives to Detention (ATD) data previously released by the agency on several occasions between August 2022 and December 2022, as well as data previously released for FY 2022, was inaccurate. TRAC therefore urges caution in interpreting the latest numbers ICE has just posted.
Immigration Court Completions Double While Backlog Passes 2 Million. (December 16, 2022). Link.
The Immigration Court has been steadily increasing the pace of its hearings and case completions. As of the end of November 2022, the court had almost doubled the number of completed cases during just the first two months of FY 2023, as compared with the first two months of FY 2022. As of the end of November 2022, the Court had already closed 85,862 cases. This compares with the same time a year ago when it had completed 43,156 cases.
A Sober Assessment of the Growing U.S. Asylum Backlog. (December 22, 2022). Link.
The latest available data reveal that the number of asylum seekers waiting for asylum hearings in the U.S. has now reached at least 1,565,966 individuals. About half of this total, or 787,882, are waiting for hearings before judges in the Immigration Courts housed in the Department of Justice. The other half, or 778,084 asylum seekers, are waiting for hearings before United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) asylum officers who are housed in the Department of Homeland Security. Many other asylum seekers have been allowed to enter the United States to go through the asylum process but have not yet submitted an asylum application.
ICE Lacks Transparency: Asserts No Records Exist to Substantiate Its ATD Custody Claims. (December 23, 2022). Link.
According to ICE's posted numbers, persons being monitored by its Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program grew by 20,000 in just the last two weeks to a total of 377,980 individuals. However, TRAC is still urging caution in interpreting these latest numbers. As we announced earlier, ICE has informed TRAC that Alternatives to Detention (ATD) data the agency posted previously was inaccurate. TRAC has requested but not yet received underlying source documents from ICE. Thus, it has not yet been able to validate and correct the ICE ATD data being posted.
IRS Audits Few Millionaires But Targeted Many Low-Income Families in FY 2022 (January 4, 2023). Link.
Former President Trump was not alone in having returns he filed while he was President allegedly escape detailed scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Last year IRS revenue agents were only able to audit a small number of millionaire returns. Indeed, during FY 2022, the odds a millionaire was audited by an IRS revenue agent was just 1.1 percent.
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