On August 7, 2019, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) executed criminal search warrants at seven agricultural processing plants in Mississippi. In the course of that action, ICE apprehended some 680 removable aliens. It turns out that part of the predicate for that investigation involved information obtained from ankle monitors placed on aliens who had been released by the agency.
The Mississippi Clarion Ledger explained: "In some instances, immigrants were released from detention and outfitted with ankle monitors while awaiting deportation proceedings. Authorities tracking their GPS coordinates were able to see they were coming and going from Mississippi food processing plants."
With respect to that investigation, the paper reports:
Unsealed court records provide the first look into how federal authorities planned what officials have described as the largest single-state workplace enforcement action in the country, ever.
ICE filed for search warrants Monday at the seven plants. The records had been sealed until U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda Anderson approved a motion Thursday to open them.
Affidavits by ICE Special Agent Anthony Williams Jr. revealed that, for years, temporarily detained undocumented workers — from as far as El Paso, Texas, and Yuma, Arizona — had employment cards from plants in Mississippi. He also said electronic ankle monitoring, surveillance and a confidential informant played a part in where raids would be targeted.
That article specifically identifies two aliens who had been released on ankle monitors and who, according to GPS tracking, were at two of the employers in question on a regular basis for hours at a time.
Ankle monitors are one of the "alternatives to detention" (ATD) that are often touted by immigrant activists as a replacement for the detention of aliens in removal proceedings. Many of us at the Center (including myself) have been critical of ATD in the past. This investigation shows, however, that there are instances where this particular form of ATD can actually benefit immigration enforcement.
My colleague Dan Cadman has in the past questioned why the information provided by ankle monitors was not used for this purpose:
I know that aliens in the ATD program often work without authorization because I and others at the Center have spoken to the personnel who run the ATD programs: They acknowledge that they are aware from GPS tracking that these aliens often work without benefit of employment authorization; in fact, they know exactly where. But for the sake of keeping the aliens in the program, they turn a blind eye. How ironic, then, that the U.S. government underwrites a program permitting aliens in removal proceedings to work without authority — which is itself a basis for removal — and in the process continues to act as an incentive for more aliens to pay smugglers to aid them in illegally entering the United States.
Perhaps his posts are a tip-sheet for ICE. There are worse sources for guidance than a former immigration professional with decades of experience.
This is not to say that ATD is really an alternative to the detention of aliens who are removable from the United States. If an alien's purpose in entering the United States illegally is to live and work in this country, releasing that alien on ATD, as Cadman alludes to above, satisfies that purpose.
And, of course, ATD does not guarantee that an alien who was ordered removed from the United States will actually appear for removal, which is the ultimate goal of any restriction on a removable alien's freedom in the United States. The importance of that goal was made clear by the Supreme Court more than 120 years ago. In particular, in Wong Wing v. United States, 163 U.S. 228, 235 (1896), the Court held:
We think it clear that detention or temporary confinement, as part of the means necessary to give effect to the provisions for the exclusion or expulsion of aliens, would be valid.Proceedings to exclude or expel would be vain if those accused could not be held in custody pending the inquiry into their true character, and while arrangements were being made for their deportation. [Emphasis added.]
What the Mississippi case shows, however, is that at least one form of ATD provides actionable intelligence to ICE in its worksite-enforcement responsibilities, a key aspect of the agency's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) mission. As the press release from ICE about that operation notes:
Unauthorized workers often use stolen identities of legal U.S. workers, which can profoundly damage for years the identity-theft victim's credit, medical records and other aspects of their everyday life.
HSI's worksite enforcement investigators help combat worker exploitation, illegal wages, child labor and other illegal practices. Worksite enforcement investigations often involve additional criminal activity, such as alien smuggling, human trafficking, money laundering, document fraud, worker exploitation and/or substandard wage and working conditions.
You think? With due respect to HSI, however, this almost sounds too defensive. Enforcing the immigration laws of the United States is an appropriate goal in and of itself, and no explanation is necessary from the agency charged with that responsibility.
Of course, in 2019, no immigration enforcement activity can go without criticism from certain quarters of the public and the political spectrum. In my next post, I will discuss those criticisms in this case, and explain why they are misinformed.