Home > Immigration > Reports

ICE Again Bungles Alternatives to Detention Data, Claims Contractor is Charging $550,000 Per Day

Published May 31, 2023

ICE’s latest data on the number of immigrants monitored by the agency’s Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program is inaccurate and misleading, which continues a pattern of sloppy data releases that the agency appears unable or unwilling to resolve. ICE’s latest data, posted on their website on May 26, 2023, claims that 235,890 immigrants are in ATD—a plausible number based on the fact that the prior data from early in May showed 242,418 immigrants in the program.

However, ICE’s data claim that 188,934 immigrants out of the total are monitored on GPS ankle monitors, up from 4,576 earlier in the month—and forty-one-fold increase in mere weeks! The data also claim that 34,576 immigrants are monitored on the smartphone app SmartLINK, down from 224,300 earlier this month. These numbers are highly implausible and are unlikely to reflect reality. See comparison below.

Figure 1. Major Discrepancies in ICE's Reported Data on Technology Use and Cost of Alternatives to Detention Program

What is more likely is that ICE has—once again—published faulty data on its Alternatives to Detention program as part of a longstanding pattern of misleading the public about how many migrants the agency is monitoring and which technology the agency is using to do so.[1] It is not as if the agency is unaware of these problems. TRAC has reported on the Biden administration’s ATD data fumbles for quite some time. In September of last year, TRAC published a detailed report on errors with a long list of examples of misleading data postings.

Then, in the fall of 2022, ICE committed its biggest errors yet: the agency falsely reported that GPS ankle monitor usage had increased dramatically between August and December, leading to widespread confusion about the program. Then, when TRAC’s requested underlying data, the agency claimed it could find no records to substantiate its public data (see TRAC’s announcements in December and January). ICE’s frequent and ongoing data errors further undermine public trust in the agency.

Even more significantly, since the private contractor named BI, Inc. that provides this data charges the agency more per immigrant on GPS than on SmartLINK, wrongful reporting could lead to significant overcharging. The current data posted by ICE shows that the daily tech cost for GPS ankle monitors provided by BI, Inc. amounts to $517,000—or over half a million dollars—a day just for GPS ankle monitors. This is up significantly from the $229,000 a day for the cost of all forms of ATD monitoring mere weeks ago.

Based on data that TRAC received earlier this year, TRAC found that the inaccurate data that ICE is posting online is consistent with data provided to the agency by the private contractor. However, ICE appears to be conducting not so much as a cursory validation check before posting these data online, which raises concerns about what other kinds of data the agency is posting with errors. Hopefully the agency is paying closer attention to invoices from the contractor, or the taxpayer could be absorbing considerable financial cost due to the Biden administration’s inattention to basic accuracy.

Although the data should be treated cautiously, updated data from ICE’s other detention data include the following highlights:

  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement held 27,330 in ICE detention according to data current as of May 21, 2023.
  • 16,705 out of 27,330—or 61.1%—held in ICE detention have no criminal record, according to data current as of May 21, 2023. Many more have only minor offenses, including traffic violations.
  • ICE relied on detention facilities in Texas to house the most people during FY 2023, according to data current as of May 15, 2023.
  • ICE arrested 7,080 and CBP arrested 11,864 of the 18,944 people booked into detention by ICE during April 2023.
  • South Texas ICE Processing Center in Pearsall, Texas held the largest number of ICE detainees so far in FY 2023, averaging 1,288 per day (as of May 2023).

Due to ICE’s errors, TRAC is not able to update the data on ATD. The most recent numbers in TRAC’s Quick Facts tool are as follows:

  • ICE Alternatives to Detention (ATD) programs are currently monitoring 242,418 families and single individuals, according to data current as of May 6, 2023.
  • Harlingen's area office has highest number in ICE's Alternatives to Detention (ATD) monitoring programs, according to data current as of May 6, 2023.

For more information, see TRAC's Quick Facts tools here or click here to learn more about TRAC's entire suite of immigration tools.

[1]^ TRAC privately notified ICE of these apparent gross inaccuracies right away. After this report went to press, this morning (5/31/2023) ICE posted an update without apparently acknowledging anywhere of their error. ICE needs its own vetting process, rather than implicitly relying on TRAC to notify them of its erroneous reporting. While the counts of GPS and SmartLINK appear more plausible in their “corrected” posting, the cost estimate still appears grossly inflated. More validation is needed before the public places trust in these updated numbers .
TRAC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit data research center affiliated with the Newhouse School of Public Communications and the Whitman School of Management, both at Syracuse University. For more information, to subscribe, or to donate, contact trac@syr.edu or call 315-443-3563.