Can Ankle Bracelets Help Solve the Immigration Crisis?

by Christine Sisto
The White House finally had a good idea, and liberals hate it.

The Obama administration has made a lot of dumb moves on immigration, it may have finally hit on a good one: using electronic monitoring to reduce the cost of illegal immigrants.

The State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) is a Department of Justice grant program that reimburses state governments for incarcerating illegal immigrants. Since SCAAP’s inception in 1986, the program has handed out more than $300 million to state governments for this purpose. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2007, 96,703 illegal immigrants were being held in state and federal prisons.

Clearly, imprisoning those who come across the border illegally is costing American taxpayers significantly. Keeping these people incarcerated while they await deportation hearings is an expense that Washington and state governments will have to cope with for years to come.

The White House, after stating recently that it will look to expand alternatives to incarceration, has devised a cost-effective plan: ankle monitors. Instead of detaining illegal immigrants, especially families with young children, the federal government has decided that affixing these monitors to the ankles of immigrants is a practical, cheap, and relatively easy way to allow illegal immigrants to go about their daily routine, but also alert authorities if they attempt to flee.

It is a solution that, on the surface, would seem to satisfy both sides of the immigration debate. Immigration hawks can be confident that illegal aliens are not going to escape justice, and the cost to taxpayers is minimized. Meanwhile, supporters of illegal immigrants can rest assured that they are not being thrown in jail with hardened criminals and will have some freedom to live a normal life, save for a slight heaviness on one ankle. Clearly, ankle bracelets do not solve the problem, but they are a step in the right direction.

However, liberals are still not satisfied. A critical New York Times story Tuesday profiled Carmen Garcia, who fled El Salvador and was arrested, along with her 12-year-old son, along the Texas border for illegally entering the country. When she reported to Manhattan in July, a tracking bracelet was affixed to her ankle. “Why are you putting this on?” she reportedly asked, “We’re not assassins. We’re not thieves. We’ve come to save our lives.” The New York Times did not provide the answer Ms. Garcia’s question, but it’s pretty simple: She broke the law.

According to the Times, “advocates and federal officials differ on how often the tracking monitors should be used.” But there’s not much disagreement on the effectiveness of the method. Nearly 100 percent of those wearing the monitors have shown up to their court dates. 

However, some critics of the plan say that using the monitors is akin to treating illegal immigrants like criminals. A report by the Immigration Rights Clinic of the Rutgers School of Law-Newark has published a report about the ankle bracelets entitled “Freed But Not Free.” The report suggests that a “grievance” system for the program participants be enacted as well as a more “user-friendly” system for the comfort of the illegal immigrants that includes shorter wait times and the relocation of Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP) offices in safe areas close to public transportation. And in case you’ve forgotten, the “participants” are people who have broken the law.

The Times article concludes with the reporter describing Ms. Garcia charging the ankle bracelet by plugging it into an electric outlet. She complains that the monitor is “hot, itchy, and unnecessary to ensure that she appears in court.”

Arizona Republican Senator John McCain recently said he would like to see ankle monitors on all illegal immigrants awaiting deportation hearings. Monitoring with the ankle bracelets has also been suggested as one possible solution to the border crisis, where fewer than 900 of the 55,000 children have been reunited with their families in their home countries. Again, this may be the most cost effective and practical option. Enrolling an immigrant in the ankle monitoring program costs about $4.50 a day, while the Department of Health and Human Services has said that it spends between $250 and $1,000 a day placing abandoned children with family members.

Sounds like a solid plan—for now.

— Christine Sisto is an editorial associate at National Review Online.