Alternatives to Detention and the For-Profit Immigration System

When Marco Tulio Hernandez left New Orleans to visit his cousin in Mississippi on March 13, he didn’t expect to end up in handcuffs. As an immigrant enrolled in the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP)—an alternative to detention program for people in immigration proceedings—he wasn’t allowed to leave Louisiana without permission. But he’d met with his ISAP officer a few days prior to his trip, and according to Hernandez, she gave him permission to buy the bus ticket and go to Mississippi.

Hernandez, an asylum seeker from Honduras, says that in his four years in and out of ISAP, he’s complied with all the program’s rules. These include weekly office check-ins, unannounced home visits, and geographical limits enforced by his GPS-enabled ankle monitor. He says that the frequency of the check-ins made it difficult for him to maintain a steady job, but because he was afraid of being deported, he never missed one.

But shortly after he returned from Mississippi, officers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested him, claiming that he didn’t have authorization to leave the state. Rather than keeping Hernandez out of physical detention, ISAP led him directly into it.

ISAP as an alternative to detention

SAP is part of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS’) push for expanded use of alternatives to detention. Initially, the DHS envisioned alternatives to detention as “community-based supervision strategies” designed to mimic the effects of immigration detention—in particular, to ensure that people show up for court appointments—without locking people up. In theory, alternatives to detention allow ICE to adjust the level of immigrants’ supervision based on their “assessed risk.”

In 2009, the DHS used several supervision programs, all of which included some form of location tracking and phone or in-person check-ins. With ankle monitors, employment verification, and curfew checks, ISAP was considered “the most restrictive.” After the DHS expanded the program in 2009 and renewed it in 2014, ISAP now dominates alternatives to detention to such an extent that it’s become synonymous with the phrase. The DHS released a report in 2015 titled “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Alternatives to Detention,” and the entire document is about ISAP—no other program is even mentioned.

By Jason Fernandez for Center for American Progress
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