The SmartLink smartphone app helps deportation agents monitor immigrants

U.S. authorities have widely expanded the use of a smartphone app during the coronavirus epidemic to ensure that released immigrants will attend deportation hearings, a requirement that lawyers say violates their privacy and makes them feel free.

More than 125,000 people – many of them stranded at the US-Mexico border – have now been forced to install an app called SmartLink on their phones, up from about 5,000 less than three years ago. This allows officials to easily send immigrants a selfie or check them out if they need to make a phone call when asked.

Although the technology is less cumbersome than an ankle monitor, lawyers say it is unfair to attach immigrants to the app because many have issued bonds to get out of U.S. detention facilities while their cases are pending in the country’s backlog immigration court. Immigration activities are administrative, not criminal, and most people who have a case before a court are not detained.

Lawyers say they are concerned about how the U.S. government could use the data collected from the app about the location and identity of immigrants and arrest others for immigration violations.

“It’s kind of shocking that in just a few years it has exploded so fast and now it’s being used so much and everywhere,” said Jacinta Gonzalez, senior campaign director for the Latin rights group Migente. “It’s making it easier for the government to track large numbers of people.”

The use of the app by immigration and customs enforcement increased during the epidemic, while many government services went online. This continues to grow as President Joe Biden calls on the judiciary to stop using private prisons. His administration has also advocated for so-called detention options to ensure immigrants are present at necessary appointments, such as immigration court hearings.

Meanwhile, the number of cases has risen to 1.6 million before the long-term U.S. immigration court system. Immigrants often have to wait years for a hearing before a judge who will decide whether they can stay in the country legally or be deported.

Since the epidemic, U.S. immigration authorities have reduced the number of immigrants in detention facilities and emphasized detention options such as apps.

The SmartLink app comes from BI, an affiliate of The Geo Group, a Boulder, Colorado-based private gel company. GEO, which operates an immigration detention facility for ICE under other agreements, declined to comment on the app.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, who are part of the Department of Homeland Security, declined to answer questions about the app, but said in a statement that the detention option was “an effective way to track non-citizens released from DHS custody who are waiting for their immigration. Proceedings.”

In a recent congressional hearing, agency officials wrote that the SmartLink app is cheaper than detention: it costs about $ 4.36 (approximately Rs. 330) per day to keep a person in detention option and to put someone in a benefit of more than $ 140 (approximately Rs. 10,600) per day, the agency budget estimates. .

Advocates say immigrants who have spent months in detention facilities and have been released on bond are placed on the app when they go to an initial meeting with the deportation officer, as well as asylum-seeking parents and children on the southwestern border.

Originally, SmartLink was seen as a less intensive alternative to ankle monitors for immigrants who were detained and released, but are now widely used for immigrants who have no criminal history and who have not been detained, said Julie Mao, deputy director. Julie Mao Immigrant Rights Group Just Future. Previously, immigrants often only participated in periodic check-ins at the agency office.

“We are very concerned that this is going to be used as an additional value for everyone in the immigration system,” Mao said.

While most people attend their immigration court hearings, some avoid. In this case, the immigration judge issues deportation orders in the absence of the immigrants and the deportation agents are given the responsibility to find them and try to bring them back to their country. In fiscal year 2018, about one-fourth of the decisions of immigration judges in cases were deportation orders for people who missed court, court data shows.

Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online. Proponents of her case have been working to make the actual transcript of this statement available online.

They said they were concerned that deportation agents were more aware than immigrants could track immigrants via SmartLink, just as commercial apps tap into location data on people’s phones.

In the criminal justice system, law enforcement agencies are using similar apps for defendants awaiting trial or sentencing. Robert Magaleta, chief executive of Louisiana-based Shadotrack Technologies, said the technology does not continuously track defendants but records their locations at check-in and the company provides a separate, full-time tracking service to law enforcement agencies using tamperproof watches.

In a 2019 congressional research service report, the ICE says the app is not constantly monitoring immigrants. Advocates, however, say quick snapshots of people’s locations at check-in can be used to track friends and colleagues who do not have proper immigration approvals. They noted that immigration investigators pulled GPS data from the Mississippi Poultry Plant workers’ ankle monitors to help create a case for a large workplace operation.

For immigrants released from detention with ankle monitors that irritate the skin and occasionally beep loudly, the app is an improvement, said Los Angeles immigration attorney Mackenzie McKinsey. It’s less painful and more discreet, he said, as ankle monitors make his clients feel like they saw others as criminals.

But SmartLink can be a source of stress for immigrants fleeing persecution in their home country to the United States, and for those who fear a check-in due to a technical glitch.

Rosen Flores, a paralegal at Hilf & Hilf in Michigan, said she recently fielded panic calls from clients because the app wasn’t working. Instead they have to report to the immigration agents’ office in person.

“I see pain because it’s clients,” Flores said. “My heart goes out to them.”

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