Advocates Demand Transparency and Accountability from ICE
The St. Louis Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America (IFCLA) has been involved in education, advocacy and accompaniment in St. Louis and Latin America for nearly 40 years. On Tuesday, in light of increasing abuse and discrimination experienced by many immigrants in St. Louis, the organization submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is the next step in a series of efforts the organization and its partners are prepared to take to end the abuse of the ankle monitor program and stop the criminalization of immigrants in our community.
“For us, acompañamiento or accompaniment is a mindset and not just a ministry,” said Rev. Tyler Connoley, Co-Chair of IFCLA’s Board of Directors. The organization believes the goal of accompaniment is to walk alongside someone in their journey, acknowledging mutuality in the struggle for justice.
IFCLA’s accompaniment teams have been active in St. Louis since July 2017 as part of a growing state-wide initiative to ensure that no one has to go to an immigration check-in alone. To date, IFCLA has trained nearly 250 volunteers, over 130 of whom are currently committed to serving in this capacity. We have practiced solidarity with our immigrant neighbors through roughly 50 check-ins and ankle monitor removal requests at local immigration offices, averaging nearly an accompaniment a week for the past year. Some groups of volunteers have committed themselves to accompanying the same individuals month after month to their routine check-ins.
This project seeks to strengthen community by being present with immigrants when they report to a check-in at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office or the office of Behavioral Interventions (BI) Incorporated, a subsidiary of the GEO Group, the private contractor who administers ICE's Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP). This program began in 2004, as part of ICE’s “alternatives to detention” programs, which began in the early 1990s. However, in reality, ISAP not an alternative but rather an expansion of detention that extends surveillance and deprives physical liberties outside of detention centers and into people’s homes. While in the program, the ankle monitor, which offers nearly real-time GPS tracking, plays pre-recorded messages on a built-in speaker, and requires hours of charging everyday (which must be done without removing the shackle), immigrants must also comply with other requirements, such as weekly 24-hour house-arrest-style periods and monthly interrogations at the office of BI Incorporated (where the right to have legal counsel present has been denied). While initial program guidelines suggested that monitors not be worn in excess of 60 days, the time on the monitor for individuals in St. Louis has routinely exceeded two years.
In collaboration with other local organizations and coalitions, IFCLA’s accompaniment project has recently developed a strategy to have these unnecessary and immoral ankle monitors removed through in-person direct petition to ICE. In an effort to combat ICE’s purposeful lack of transparency and obscuring of policy surrounding ISAP, IFCLA has filed a FOIA request that seeks information about the immigrants who have been placed on ankle monitors as part of this program, as well as information about the administration of the program.
The goal of this FOIA request is to obtain data about who in the immigrant community is affected by this program, as well as how local ICE agents make decisions regarding the use of ankle monitors. This FOIA request also seeks to obtain the contracts and communications between the local offices of ICE and BI Incorporated, calling for accountability from the U.S. government in regard to its unjust for-profit immigration ventures. Furthermore, this request also demands the same information of ICE’s Houston Field Office in an attempt to understand whether the St. Louis Sub-Field Office follows national patterns or strays from them in terms of the use and implementation of alternatives to detention programs and specifically, ankle monitor policies. With this information, IFCLA will hold the St. Louis ICE Sub-Field Office accountable for their actions and demand a standard of transparency that is aligned with IFCLA’s values of respect for dignity and individual human rights.
The ISAP program, especially through its use of ankle monitors, furthers stigmatization of undocumented immigrants and leads to the impunity that perpetuates family separation and criminalization of immigration. IFCLA will not stand for the opacity that allows this mistreatment of our neighbors to continue. People of faith and good will in the St. Louis area are prepared to continue to escalate, from accompaniment to FOIA requests and litigation if necessary, to ensure that the St. Louis immigrant community are honored and respected as an integral members of our city and our lives.
Read the full FOIA request here.