Immigrations and Customs Officials (ICE) increasingly use GPS tracking devices to locate and track illegal immigrants in the U.S.
Immigrants who arrive in the U.S. illegally are likely to be eventually identified by ICE officials. They are then located, arrested, and hauled before a judge. The judge may, among other things, order hearings to be conducted at a future date. In order to ensure those illegal immigrants comply with court orders and reappear, judges are increasingly ordering these illegal immigrants to wear GPS tracking devices.
Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson indicated to Congress that
“ICE was ‘ramping up’ its use of the ankle monitors and intended to more than double the total number monitored, from 23,000 last year to 53,000 in 2016.”
In July, 2016, ICE used about 9,300 ankle monitors at a time, which was 40% more than the six months prior to that.
Ankle Monitors are Cost Effective
According to an ICE official, monitors cost an average of $5 a day per person. By contrast, detention of an illegal immigrant would cost an average of $130 per day per person. The devices allow ICE officials to release immigrants from detention before the next court hearing. The significant reduction in cost, between detention and GPS monitoring, allows ICE officials to monitor more people more effectively.
In United State v. Jones (2012), the United States Supreme Court discussed the difference between in-person location tracking and the use of GPS devices for the same location tracking. The Court acknowledged the cumbersome nature of following the subjects of illegal activity indefinitely. In that case the government argued it takes three to four government agents, at all times, to constantly follow the object of the suspicion in order to maintain knowledge of that person’s location while, conversely, GPS tracking devices can provide that same information for a fraction of the cost and effort.
The use of GPS tracking devices frees up ICE officials to investigate new cases while still maintaining knowledge of previous cases. GPS tracking also increases compliance with court orders.
ICE officials indicate ankle monitors are used on a “case-by-case basis with a priority for detention of serious criminal offenders and other individuals who pose a significant threat to public safety.” LATIMES. Ankle monitors are used for low-risk immigrants who are not likely to harm others.
An advantage of ankle monitors is that they allow immigrants to return to their homes, families, and jobs. The U.N. Refugee Agency seeks for receiving nations to respect the rights and dignity of immigrants while at the same time maintaining the security interests of the receiving nation. The immigrant frequently benefits from mobility, the ability to seek employment to provide for their families, and otherwise assimilate into the local community. The use of GPS trackers allows each of those things while also fulfilling the security needs of the U.S.
The U.S. is not the only country employing GPS devices to track immigrants.
Canada has also employed the use of GPS tracking devices with the idea that “electronic monitoring can save money and reduce the administrative burden of managing detainees in holding cells.”
Canada’s use of GPS tracking lends some amount legitimacy to the U.S. use of devices. It seems the U.S. gets criticized for its draconian treatment of illegal immigrants. For a nation other than the U.S., such as Canada, to use the same sort of measures, can sooth the humanitarian concerns of some.
Immigrants Object to use of GPS Devices
The use of GPS devices on ankles is often criticized by the immigrants who are forced to wear them. There is frequently a feeling of degradation. There are also the practical issues. Ankle monitors are hot and can cause irritations to the skin. Above all, perhaps, is the feeling that there is an invasion of privacy. The ankle device stays with the individual at all times, thereby removing any feeling that the individual is ever by themselves.
Is the use of GPS tracking devices a smart use of technology or a humanitarian misstep?