Alternatives to Detention: ICE Needs to Better Assess Program Performance and Improve Contract Oversight

GAO-22-104529 Published: Jun 22, 2022. Publicly Released: Jun 22, 2022.
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Fast Facts

Some people who are waiting for resolution of their immigration court cases can be enrolled in Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Alternatives to Detention program.

The program offers ICE options for monitoring people (e.g., GPS or home visits) to help ensure compliance with release requirements, such as appearing in court. Since 2015, program enrollments have more than doubled to over 100,000 in 2020.

ICE uses a $2.2 billion contract to administer the Alternatives to Detention program, but doesn't fully assess how the program is working or ensure that the contractor meets standards. Our recommendations could help ICE address these issues.

Enrollments in the Alternatives to Detention program more than doubled between 2015 and 2020

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Highlights

What GAO Found

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) uses the Alternatives to Detention (ATD) program as one way to monitor individuals it releases into the community. GAO's analysis of ICE contractor data found that the number of individuals enrolled in the ATD program more than doubled from approximately 53,000 in 2015 to 111,000 in 2020. See figure. During this period, ICE unenrolled most participants before their immigration proceedings concluded. ICE placed about half of unenrolled participants on monitoring outside of the ATD program and about a quarter absconded (i.e. fled their address and could not be located).

Number of Participants Enrolled and Unenrolled in the Alternatives to Detention Program, 2015-2020

Number of Participants Enrolled and Unenrolled in the Alternatives to Detention Program, 2015-2020

ICE collects data on the ATD program, such as whether participants attend their scheduled court hearings. ICE also developed a performance goal for fiscal year 2022, but ICE does not assess program performance for all core program activities and outcomes, such as referrals for community services. Establishing such goals would position ICE to assess the extent to which the program is achieving intended results and identify any needed improvements. In addition, ICE has not completely presented information on participants who abscond from the ATD program. For example, ICE does not include all relevant participants when calculating absconsion rates. By doing so, ICE could more completely demonstrate program performance related to absconsions and help ensure policymakers have the context needed to appropriately use the information.

ICE conducts some oversight of the contractor that helps implement the ATD program nationwide. For example, ICE conducts weekly audits intended to ensure that ATD participants receive the assigned level of supervision and services. However, ICE does not fully assess the contractor against the standards for performance established in the contract, nor follow-up and document whether the contractor resolves issues it identifies. Taking steps to improve contract oversight would help ICE ensure that the contractor is achieving outcomes as identified in the contract and provide reasonable assurance that the contractor is correcting identified issues.

Why GAO Did This Study

ICE has wide discretion to detain or release individuals of foreign nationality awaiting resolution of their immigration court proceedings, except for individuals subject to mandatory detention. The ATD program, which ICE administers through a $2.2 billion contract, uses electronic monitoring and case management to help ensure that individuals enrolled comply with release conditions, such as appearing at immigration court hearings. The explanatory statement accompanying the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 includes a provision for GAO to review the ATD program.

This report examines, among other objectives, (1) what data show about participation in the ATD program, (2) the extent to which ICE has assessed ATD performance, and (3) how ICE manages and oversees the ATD contractor. GAO analyzed ICE contractor data from November 2014 through 2020; and reviewed ATD policies, performance reports, and contract documents. GAO also interviewed ICE and contractor officials from headquarters and the field.

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Recommendations

GAO is making 10 recommendations, including that ICE establish performance goals that cover core program activities, improve external reporting of absconsion information, collect information needed to assess the contractor's performance against standards, and ensure the contractor addresses all audit findings. DHS concurred with the recommendations.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement The Director of ICE should develop a mechanism for ERO to record the completion of ATD supervision reviews. (Recommendation 1)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement The Director of ICE should regularly monitor the information on ATD supervision reviews to ensure that the reviews occur according to policy. (Recommendation 2)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement The Director of ICE should establish performance goals with measurable targets for the ATD program that cover core program activities and participant outcomes. (Recommendation 3)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement The Director of ICE should include information on absconsions relative to the population of both active and unenrolled participants when externally reporting absconsion information for the ATD program. (Recommendation 4)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement The Director of ICE should consistently explain ICE's methodology for calculating absconsion statistics when externally reporting absconsion information for the ATD program. (Recommendation 5)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement The Director of ICE should ensure that its oversight activities collect the information needed to assess all performance standards in the contract. (Recommendation 6)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement The Director of ICE should ensure the results of its oversight activities are recorded in a manner that allows for analysis of the contractor's overall performance against each standard. (Recommendation 7)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement Once ICE collects the information needed to assess all performance standards and records the results in a manner that allows for analysis, the Director of ICE should use the oversight findings to assess whether the contractor is meeting the acceptable quality levels for all performance standards and document the results. (Recommendation 8)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement The Director of ICE should take steps to ensure that the ATD program contractor addresses findings identified through case file audits and that ICE documents their resolution. (Recommendation 9)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement The Director of ICE should monitor whether the ATD contractor is providing participants with access to legal orientation presentations as required by the contract. (Recommendation 10)
Open
When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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