New York’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement field office has dramatically increased the number of women whose movements it is tracking via GPS-enabled ankle monitors this year, according to statistics provided to the Voice.
In 2012 ICE put only 24 ankle monitors on women in New York; in 2013 that number decreased slightly, to just 18. This year, though, the New York field office has put a staggering 719 women in ankle monitors — a 3,894 percent increase year to year.
The number of men with ankle monitors has stayed relatively constant over the same three years — 118 in 2012, 165 in 2013, and 132 this year. Women remain in the minority nationally, too: Only 38 percent of Alternatives to Detention “participants” — 7,4407 individuals as of July — are female; 62 percent are male.
Asked to account for the increase, an ICE spokesman said: “As the number of migrants who are encountered by ICE increases, it is reasonable to assume ATD use will increase as well, within the scope of the program’s resources.” He insisted that the increase did not represent a change in policy.
66,142 “family units” — to use Customs and Border Protection parlance — were apprehended at the border in 2014, up from just 12,908 in 2013. That is a large increase, but doesn’t explain why New York has seen such a dramatic rise for women in particular, and three ICE officials queried for this story were at a loss to explain the spike.
Lawyers who are volunteering to assist with the expedited hearings for unaccompanied minors in New York’s federal immigration court say they began noticing the increase in ankle monitors in July.
Use of the devices seemed to catch at least one judge off guard — Judge James Loprest appeared surprised when a detainee at a recent hearing asked to have her ankle monitor removed. He was not aware she (and, presumably, each of the other approximately 30 mothers who appeared before him that day) was wearing one.
The GPS monitors are described as a “flight-mitigation tool” by ICE, but many of the women who appeared in federal immigration court wearing the devices were seeking asylum in the U.S. Their hearings, like those of an estimated 10,000 children, have been given priority in the Lower Manhattan court, pushed to the top of the docket on orders from President Obama.
Normally it would take almost a year for a detainee from a country other than Mexico to have a first hearing, but the Justice Department has fast-tracked hearings for children and families who arrived from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador since October 2013. Judges are being asked to schedule hearings within 21 days of a child’s capture, and within 28 days for families who were apprehended together. The court is holding 30 hearings per day until each child released to a guardian in New York has had his or her case heard.
In the three weeks since hearings got under way, there has been just one day dedicated to hearings for families, which are mostly mothers apprehended with their children. It’s unclear, though, when the next “families” hearing will be. Eve Stotland, director of The Door’s Legal Services Center, one of five organizations volunteering to help represent the children, says it’s a mystery to the judges and ICE lawyers, too — “They get these boxes of documents from Texas, or from wherever people are being held, and they don’t know what they are going to get next.”