GPS tracking of immigrants in ICE raids confuses defenders

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Federal immigration authorities were able to track an undocumented Guatemalan woman from the time she left her home in the morning to go to work at a food processing plant in Mississippi, until the time she left the work about 10 hours later.

They were able to do this because the woman was given an ankle monitor after being released from ICE detention, and immigration and customs officials used the data gleaned from her monitor to target raids this this month on his factory and six others that led to the arrest of nearly 700 people.

The raid’s unsealed search warrants reveal that immigration authorities tracked this GPS data of dozens of undocumented immigrants with ankle monitors.

Immigration lawyers and advocates told NBC News they had never heard of ICE employing the tactic, which they described as “disturbing” and which raised concerns about the rights of people. immigrants.

“It is troubling to us that those released are being followed for reasons that have nothing to do with whether they are likely to appear for their court cases or to flee,” said Judy Rabinovitz, director Assistant to the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’. Project Rights.

Search warrants for Mississippi food processing plants indicate that undocumented immigrants previously released from ICE detention centers under electronic surveillance have been found in factories operated by the five companies targeted by the operation. ICE targeted seven facilities operated by A&B, Koch Foods, Peco Foods, PH Food and Pearl River Foods.

“I think this raises questions as to whether this is an appropriate use of ankle monitors, because taken to the extreme it means they can monitor every place that person goes, every person. that she encounters, and that raises various privacy concerns, ”Rabinovitz said. .

Michelle Lapointe, senior supervising attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said she wondered if undocumented immigrants were made aware of “what uses monitors may be for before someone accepts that as a condition of their release.” .

“I would like to know if any of this is disclosed to people, especially if it is going to be used as evidence against these people in future criminal proceedings,” she said.

ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox said in an email to NBC News that “no one is required to wear an ankle monitor; however, when a custody decision is made based on all of the circumstances in a particular case, GPS monitoring may be required as a condition of release.

“Those released from ICE custody who are subject to electronic surveillance are, in fact, subject to electronic surveillance,” he said.

ICE Acting Director Matthew Albence said in a statement this week that enforcement operations at construction sites involved “complex criminal investigations of both employers and employees.”

He said those who “oppose” such investigations “are siding with unscrupulous businesses.”

“Our investigation in Mississippi is continuing, and all parties found to be in violation of the law will be held accountable,” he added. “This includes employers who profit from their crimes.”

As of Saturday, there were more than 99,349 people in ICE’s Alternatives to Detention program, which allows some immigrants to be released from detention centers during their deportation cases, according to ICE data. Of those, 43,233 were subjected to GPS tracking devices, according to the data. For the New Orleans field office, which includes Mississippi, that number was 3,588 in total, of which 2,770 were under GPS tracking, the data showed.

Randy Capps, research director for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute, said it’s only in the past five years that the United States has had such a large number of monitored and not detained immigrants.

“The fact that they now have such a large monitored population is something relatively new, as well as the phenomenon that ICE is able to track a substantial population of cross-border commuters and understand what they are doing,” he said. she declared.

In the search warrant for Peco Foods, ICE said requests from immigrants enrolled in an alternative to detention program showed 21 undocumented immigrants working at its processing plants in Mississippi, including 14 at a factory in Canton.

The warrant then lists specific undocumented immigrants who he said were part of the ankle surveillance program whose movements were tracked to the searched site.

In one example, ICE listed the Guatemalan woman, who was first encountered by immigration officials at the border in 2016 and was later released with an electronic ankle monitor and went to live in the Mississippi.

Handcuffed workers are escorted onto a bus for transport to a processing center following a raid by U.S. immigration officials at a Koch Foods Inc. factory in Morton, Mississippi on August 7.Rogelio V. Solis / AP

“Historical GPS coordinate queries associated with ‘his ankle monitor’ revealed numerous coordinates captured daily located ‘at the PECO Foods Canton processing plant. ICE added that GPS coordinates showed the woman had visited the processing plant “several times a week” and had been on that property for about 10 hours on those days. The woman did not have a work permit in the United States, according to the ICE.

In a search warrant for Koch Foods, ICE said immigrant applications under an alternatives to detection program showed that 16 undocumented immigrants were working in 2018 at processing plants across the country. company in Mississippi and that by the end of July, 21 immigrants were working or working at the factory in Morton.

In one example, the warrant lists a Guatemalan woman who was encountered by immigration authorities in June 2018 and was eventually released from ICE custody with an ankle monitor. The woman’s ankle monitor GPS coordinates “revealed many coordinates captured daily” with the Morton Koch Foods plant, according to the ICE.

The warrant also stated that the woman went from her home to the factory “several times a week” and stayed at the factory for about eight to 10 hours. ICE said the woman also did not have a work permit.

In the warrants, ICE also listed some undocumented immigrants with ankle monitors who had previously told the agency that they had worked at these companies.

Other tactics ICE used in operations were confidential informants, workers who told them they worked in factories, and evidence of false documents.

Oscar Chacón, co-founder and executive director of Alianza Americas, a Latino immigrant advocacy group, said such surveillance tactics “further stigmatize” immigrants who wear ankle monitors.

Chacón said he believed that the use of jobsite raids and ankle monitor data tracking as a tactic was “part of a larger effort to use fear as a means of promoting the idea that people can feel so trapped “that they drop their immigration file or leave. United States

Marshall Goff, a Mississippi immigration attorney representing some of the families affected by the raids, said people in their communities were still scared.

“It was scary,” he said. “A lot of people are still scared right now, and they’re scared to leave their homes, to really do anything.”


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