Mobile app: controversial new way to monitor undocumented migrants in US

Atlanta, Mar 21 (EFE).- Some 200,000 undocumented migrants are being electronically monitored in the United States using a new mobile telephone application as part of a controversial program considered by immigrant defenders to be an unnecessary alternative to detention that also violates a person’s privacy and can be abused.

Hispanic activists and organizations and human rights defenders feel that, although this simple solution seems to be better than electronic ankle bracelets, immigration authorities are using it according to their whims without clear regulations governing that usage.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirmed to EFE that 191,988 migrants are currently being monitored in the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP), one of the “alternatives to detention” implemented by the Joe Biden administration as a “more humane” option than internment.

Via the SmartLink app, ICE officials are continuing to closely follow the movements of the undocumented migrants, who have to report frequently – some of them weekly, others daily, and some even multiple times per day – by sending in a selfie, EFE learned.

“Every Thursday at 11 am I have to send a picture of my face to immigration,” Danny Sanchez, a Venezuelan attorney who has requested US asylum and who ICE is being monitored via SmartLink, told EFE.

“However, for others their telephone rings every little while for them to post their photo. It can be in the morning, at night or at any hour of the day, and they’re always scared to be without their phone,” he said.

Sanchez is one of the thousands of immigrants who in recent months turned himself in at the US-Mexico border and whom the authorities released under the ISAP program with a government-provided cellphone.

“I don’t know what range this app has. I don’t know if what I’m saying is being monitored,” said Sanchez, who is a father.

But he added that he feels fortunate not to have an electronic bracelet with GPS around his ankle that makes getting a job difficult because “it causes … discrimination.”

The number of immigrants who are being monitored in these “Alternatives to Detention” programs in three months went from a few thousand to almost 200,000, a figure that the government intends to double before yearend.

“There are serious concerns about the privacy of the app, especially in light of how broadly it’s being used now,” Azadeh Shahshahani, the legal director and human rights defender at Project South, told EFE.

Shahshahani expressed her unease regarding “how the government could use the data extracted from the app about the location and the contacts of immigrants to … arrest other members of the community for immigration violations.”

“We’ve seen in a very short time that the … (Biden) administration had been expanding this program, that it’s very harmful, and unfortunately they’re trying to disguise it as if it were an alternative to detention,” Jacinta Gonzalez, a senior campaign organizer for the national Mijente group, told EFE.

The activist said that this is nothing more than an expansion of the detention system. “It’s not a program that has a logical basis, or any systemization, or clear rules about how to use it and so it’s nothing more than another way for immigration agents to be able to abuse their power. They’re using it however they like,” she said.



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