The alternative to detention is freedom, not surveillance

“Alternatives to detention” or ATDs have been promoted by the federal government as a “humane” approach to immigration enforcement, but ankle monitors and other forms of surveillance have devastating consequences. Immigrants and people born in the U.S. all benefit when people are free to navigate their immigration cases with their communities and have access to the supportive services they need – without harmful and costly detention or expansion of surveillance systems.

We call upon Congress to cut funding for brick-and-mortar immigration detention AND for ATDs that further criminalize people. Federal funding should not go to the Department of Homeland Security, but to supportive, non-compulsory, community-based services that can benefit everyone.

What are ATDs?

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) defines ATDs as “technology and other tools to manage an undocumented individual’s compliance with release conditions” – in practice this looks like ankle bracelets, check-ins at ICE offices or in the home, telephone monitoring, and facial recognition check-ins using smartphone apps.

ICE was given $442.7 million in Fiscal Year 2022 for ATD programs. The majority of the funding for ATDs is funneled to a private corporation called Behavioral Interventions Inc. (BI), which operates ICE’s Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP). BI Inc. is a subsidiary of GEO Group, the world’s second-largest private prison corporation.[1] In 2020, ICE signed a five-year contract with BI Inc. for $2.2 billion.[2] 

What’s wrong with ATDs?

  • Reliance on ATDs is NOT decreasing the number of people in detention. More than 480,000 people have been enrolled in ICE’s ATD program[3] as the number of people in immigration detention and detention funding both continue to increase. ATD’s are an expansion of detention, not an alternative to it.   
  • Ankle monitors and surveillance have negative health consequences. In 2020, over 150 immigrants subjected to electronic ankle monitors through ICE’s ATD program were surveyed about their experience.[4]  90% of respondents reported experiencing harm to their physical health, including electric shocks, numbness, and sustained swelling. 88% of respondents reported negative impacts to their mental health, including anxiety, sleep disruption, and thoughts of suicide.
  • ATDs violate civil liberties. ICE’s SmartLINK app has immense surveillance capabilities: According to The Markup, “In addition to tracking a person’s location and extracting data about a person’s web browsing, search history, phone and video calls within the app, the MarkUp found that SmartLINK may also record audio and video and enable calls from a person’s phone without their knowledge or consent.”[5]
  • ATDs can limit the ability people have to provide for their families. Any program that requires someone to be home during certain hours limits their ability to hold a steady job and impacts their family’s financial stability.
  • Technological malfunctions have huge consequences. As reported by Documented, “ICE’s system of threat and retaliation… puts people in a state of constant panic and fear about being perceived by ICE as non-compliant – an experience which is compounded by SmartLINK’s regular technical malfunctions.”[6]
  • There is no transparency or due process. Advocates consistently report that “ICE does not conduct regular de-escalation reviews as outlined by its own guidelines, often ignoring them altogether, making surveillance a perpetually continuing reality. There is no transparency about the process and de-escalation requests are frequently rejected.”[7]

What do we need instead?

  • Access to services and resources to welcome and support immigrants in our communities. Access to basic needs, like healthcare, housing, and food assistance, without a proof of citizenship requirement.
  • Care, not corporate profits. Supportive services should be provided by community-based organizations, nonprofits, or faith-based institutions, and providers should operate with full transparency. Corporate interests should not influence our migration policies.
  • Universal representation and due process. Immigrants should be guaranteed legal representation in their immigration proceedings.
  • Legislative changes. Congress must rewrite our immigration policies so that we don’t respond to migration with detention or surveillance.

ATDs are not a solution to the injustices in the U.S. immigration system. We need a system that treats people with dignity and respect, where people seeking protection or a better life can easily adjust their immigration status while remaining with their family and community.

[1] The GEO Group Inc., Investigate, available at (last updated June 27, 2022); E-Carceration, Investigate, available at (last updated Aug. 12, 2019)
[2] Johana Bhuiyan, Poor tech, opaque rules, exhausted staff: inside the private company surveilling US immigrants, The Guardian (Mar. 7, 2022), available at
[3] Nearly 500,000 Immigrants Go Through ICE’s Alternatives to Detention System in Two Years, TRAC Reports (Oct. 20, 2022), available at
[4] Tosca Giustini et al., Immigration Cyber Prisons: Ending the Use of Electronic Ankle Shackles (2021), available at
[5] Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Meet SmartLINK, the App Tracking Nearly a Quarter Million Immigrants, Documented (June 27, 2022), available at:
[6] Id.
[7] Aly Penjwani et al., Tracked & Trapped: Experiences from ICE Digital Prisons (May 2022), available at