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A cell is seen inside the Caroline Detention Facility in Bowling Green, Virginia, on August 13, 2018. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images.
A cell is seen inside the Caroline Detention Facility in Bowling Green, Virginia, on August 13, 2018. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images.

ICE detentions increase as Biden administration lags in humane detention methods

The practice of electronic shackling disproportionately affects Black immigrants, fueling a carceral immigration approach.

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As things stand, the United States is without a humane and just immigration system. 

The current one functions as an extension of the nation’s mass-incarceration system, which it cannot fix through mass-deportations despite how hard it has tried. 

The number of detained immigrants has nearly doubled, according to the latest figures released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as more than 26,000 people were reported to be in detention last week, compared to 14,000 in April 2021. 

As immigration initiatives like the American Dream and Promise Act continue to make little ground through Congress, the Biden administration itself is lacking its humane immigration methods. It continues to fund and practice measures like Title 42, for-profit detention centers, as well as the use of electronic shackling for migrants not in detention centers.

Biden’s administration says it is working to make the U.S. immigration system more “humane,” though the efforts so far have been incremental at best. 

It recently announced that it barred Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents from detaining pregnant or nursing women, save for some “exceptional circumstances.” The move was part of Biden’s broader effort to reverse Trump-era deportation policies, but it’s clear the administration is picking and choosing in the first six months. 

So far, it is narrowing who ICE agents can arrest, but Biden made promises to do much more on the campaign trail.. 

Within his Latino Agenda, the president promised to implement a bill that “will modernize our immigration and give nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants a roadmap to citizenship.”

This is what the president tried to do within the stalled American Dream and Promise Act. A path to citizenship, however, was also one of the Democrats priorities to get into the upcoming reconciliation package. Yet Biden recently backtracked on his remarks, suggesting he would only support signing a bipartisan bill if a larger reconciliation package was also passed — making the chances for such an initiative to be included much slimmer. 

Biden has also not ended for-profit immigration detention centers, nor has he rescinded Trump-era rules that disqualified victims of gang and domestic violence from asylum.

And now, a new study is shedding light on his administration’s continued use of carceral immigration methods.

Electronic ankle monitors, which are traditionally used on incarcerated people or people on probation, track geographical information of the wearer. Over the last 20 years, these devices have also been used by immigration authorities. 

As talks of alternatives to detention have grown, the use of these devices has also come into question, and whether they are humane methods to keep tabs on undocumented people. 

A joint study from Freedom for Immigrants, Immigration Defense Project, and Cardozo School of Law came to the consensus that ankle shackling has too many negative effects on the wearer, and it must end entirely.

First reported by The Guardian, the report found that immigrants in America who were forced to wear these electronic ankle monitors suffered from an emotional, mental and physical toll. This included trouble sleeping, mental health problems, problems at work, thoughts of suicide, and more.

What the report largely refers to as “shackling,” perpetuates similar harms as experienced in abusive detention centers, and ultimately has a “devastating” impact on a wearer’s physical and mental health. 

One of the biggest findings of the report was the disproportionate effect on Black immigrants. It found they were represented in the study at a rate more than double the rate of the non- “shackled” cohort.

In all, the study found that 90% of surveyed individuals experienced harm to their physical health, and 88% reported harm to their mental health. The study also found that 97% reported experiencing social isolation, 78% reported financial hardship, and 74% reported the shackles hindered their ability to care for family and community.

“By continuing to fund ICE’s shackling program, the Biden administration is playing right into the private prison industry’s hands,” wrote Freedom for Migrants on Twitter. 

The report, again signals that there is much to be done in ending the U.S.’s current carceral approach to immigration.

When reached for comment by AL DÍA, Oscar Chacón, executive director of Allianza Americas, reiterated the study's findings of the serious mental health effects of "shackling," but pushed further in arguing the practice's existence was another reason to end immigrant detention once and for all.

"A truly humane approach would be for the Biden Administration to once and for all end immigrant detention and use the Department of Homeland Security detention budget to provide legal representation to every person in detention and those wearing ankle monitors," he said.

That reality is still a ways away.

Even in the American Dream and Promise Act, which is considered to be a landmark legislation, certain measures fell short to some progressive Democrats’ standards. 

It fell short, as Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-IL) noted after its passing, because it failed to fully address immigrant criminalization

He joined Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and 34 other Democratic colleagues, in sending a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and ICE director Tae Johnson, pushing to change immigration policies that rely on what they outline as a “discriminatory legal system.”

“We need humane and just immigration policies that aim to end mass incarceration, criminalization and deportation of immigrants,” Rep. AOC wrote on Twitter at the time.

But within the administration, there is disagreement over how the immigration system is currently functioning, and whether ICE should be detaining people at the rate it has been. 

Recently, progressive Dems have been drawing “red lines” to advance their initiatives in Congress. Perhaps it’s a step moderates will need to take on in the future, instead of fruitlessly trying to appease both parties.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated with a quote from Oscar Chacón, executive director of Allianza Americas.
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