ICE said that the temporary stop and release system became more widely practiced by officials amid an upturn in immigration from Central America this year. Some, but by no means all, of this immigration was from people who had not previously applied for permission to migrate to the US. This meant that such families would usually be detained at the border. However, because of a lack of available detention space, many of the migrant families who were intercepted at the border were given permission to join relatives in America whilst their application to stay permanently is assessed or they await a deportation procedure. Under this system, migrants are expected to report on an individual basis to an ICE office within a few weeks or so of them reaching their chosen destination.
Officials at ICE were keen to point out that the numbers failing to show up for a supervision appointment does not necessarily mean that those concerned have absconded and are therefore seeking to avoid an appearance in an immigration court which might decide on their right to stay. A spokesman for ICE said, “People who do not report to us in the way that they are requested to do may still be getting to their immigration court proceedings.”
The finding that so many immigrants are failing to report under the system has led to some criticism of the whole approach that ICE is taking. “These figures contradict all that we have known about people who actually comply with orders to report,” Royce Bernstein Murray said. The director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Centre in Chicago added that his organisation – and others – needs to understand the data in more detail in order to “find out where gaps in the system can be addressed.”
According to ICE, depending on whether an official decides an individual is likely to go underground or to continue to report will influence their course of action. Migrants who report to an office of the agency, but who might be viewed as high-risk, may be required to wear an electronic ankle bracelet, for example. This technology, which is designed to monitor their movements, may be one reason that so many would-be migrants fail to show up for an appointment. Of course, a person reporting may simply be told to check in again after a couple of weeks but there is nothing to guarantee that a bracelet will not be fitted. Ultimately, the goal of ICE is to make sure that an individual who may potentially be facing deportation from the country stays in contact with the authorities and it may be that the threat of bracelets are contributing to the amount of no-shows.
The check in system operated by the agency has been seen by many observers in the United States as a good alternative to detention. This is because the amount of space available in detention centres is limited and it costs the US taxpayer in the region of $260 per person per day to detain them. However, critics of the release-and-report approach simply point out that it is not being kept to in the majority of cases.
According to Gillian Christensen, an ICE spokeswoman, the no-show figure represents only an “approximate snapshot” of individuals who were encountered by border officials from the start of May. She continued to say that there were a “significant” number of deportation cases which are still pending before judges and that some of the no shows would inevitably turn up again in the system as their cases proceeded. The Executive Office of Immigration Review, which has responsibility for the immigration courts, issued a statement to say that it continues to schedule and hear all deportation cases on an expedited basis. This, it said, is in keeping with President Obama’s declaration that his administration would make such hearings a priority.