Attorneys for migrant women freed from South Texas detention facilities earlier this month say their clients are being forced to wear ankle monitors by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The lawyers also say the release process has been full of “coercion, disorganization, and confusion,” and that the women are being misled about their rights by ICE officials.
Women and children seeking asylum in the United States were freed from two South Texas immigration detention facilities on July 14. The facilities became infamous for being identical to prisons; in April, a group of mothers staged a hunger strike at one of them.
The Associated Press reports that ICE is imposing an unusual set of conditions on the women, according to American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), who sent an open letter to ICE along with several other immigration nonprofits. While they await asylum hearings, an immigration judge offered the women the choice to pay a bond or wear an ankle monitor. But AILA lawyers say that even women who paid the bond are being forced to wear the monitors, which are bulky, extremely visible, need to be charged often, and carry a heavy stigma:
Between 70 and 100 women were called into courtrooms at the 50-acre Dilley campus last week and told by ICE officials that they could be released with ankle monitors in lieu of bond, according to a motion filed by R. Andrew Free, a Nashville lawyer working with the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project.
ICE appears to want ankle monitors, which use global positioning technology, on the majority of women released, Free said in an interview. The agency’s actions “are misleading people about their rights,” he said.
An immigration attorney in Denver, Laura Lichter, said that in her 20 years of practice she has never seen ICE add a monitoring device or impose other conditions after an immigration judge has set bond. She said the bracelet monitors were cumbersome, conspicuous, and required constant charging and were another tacit attempt at deterrence.
“There is a stigma,” Lichter said. “Everyone is going to think that they are criminals.”
In a press release, AILA and the other immigration nonprofits say some of the released people were “coerced” into accepting ankle monitors, and intimidated out of asking questions about why they had to wear them. Lawyers from the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CARA) said ICE officials demanded to know the names of women telling them about problems with the monitors:
Mothers at Dilley have been intimidated as a result of speaking with counsel about their ankle monitors. One terrified CARA client reported that officials went room-to-room on the night of July 23 wanting to know the names of the mothers who told CARA about the problems with the ankle monitors. These officials emphasized that they wanted the mothers’ names. The client reported that angry officials told the mothers that lawyers have nothing to do with this matter.
The attorneys also say the conditions of release haven’t been made clear, setting the women up to fail:
Volunteers at the San Antonio bus station have found many families do not understand the terms of their release, and even where they have been handed important documents, they are in English so Spanish or indigenous language speakers do not understand the content. Mothers who have been shackled with an ankle monitor have no idea how or when to charge the device and their deportation officers refused to explain or answer questions before release.
CARA also says they’ve asked to be allowed to set up pre-release orientations with the women to explain the conditions, but that ICE has ignored them:
CARA has pled with ICE to be allowed to help prepare the mothers to understand their rights and obligations upon release through pre-release orientations, meaning a daily briefing to explain the women’s rights, any reporting obligations, the importance of appearing for all scheduled court appearances, how to file an asylum application in advance of the one-year filing deadline, and how to connect with pro bono attorneys in their cities of destination. Although those requests were initially received with enthusiasm, nothing has yet been implemented despite numerous attempts by advocates to set up these critically important orientations.
The de facto use of ankle monitors maybe on the rise: ICE officials in New York also began fitting migrant women with them last year, telling Village Voice reporter Tessa Stuart they were a “flight mitigation tool.”
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Families released from detention wait at a bus station in San Antonio, July 7, 2015. Photo via AP Images