The Albanian man was at home when immigration officials arrived last month and placed an electronic tether on his ankle.
The 34-year-old father of three, who asked to remain anonymous, entered the U.S. illegally in 1999 and has an asylum case pending. He says immigration officials have ordered him not to leave his home except to go to work.
He is among 55 aliens in the Detroit area who’ve have had electronic monitoring devices placed on their ankles since July, according to Roy Bailey, field director for the Detroit office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Bailey says the tetherings are part of a pilot program under way in Detroit, Miami and Anchorage. He says the program initially was designed to track people who have been ordered deported but was expanded to include those not yet ordered removed, and for people appealing their cases.
An immigration judge ordered the Albanian deported after his asylum application was denied; he is appealing.
The pilot program was intended to give ICE an alternative to placing people in detention facilities, says Bailey.
But some are suspicious of it, including attorney Robert Birach, who represents the Albanian.
Birach and other immigration lawyers learned about the program in August during a meeting with Bailey. Birach says they were told the program was designed to relieve overcrowding in detention facilities.
Birach says he understood that tethers would be used on immigrants who had been slated for deportation. The tracking device would allow them to spend the rest of their time in the United States. with family, he says.
“We loved it and saw it as a win-win, and requested to have clients on tethers” rather than in a cell, says Birach.
Birach and others learned that the program had been expanded when they began hearing from clients who hadn’t been ordered out of the country but who had been tethered anyway.
“We were given no notice that they expanded it,” he says.
Birach and other immigration attorneys met with Bailey last week to discuss the program.
Some fear that immigration officers may tether people who do not qualify for the pilot program.
“The potential for abuse is there,” says attorney Reginald Pacis, Michigan chapter chair for the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).
Pacis says AILA is closely monitoring the pilot program. So far, he has not heard of any abuses. In fact, when one client complained that a tether was too tight, it was loosened; others have asked to have tethers removed and Bailey has agreed, he says.
Bailey says the program is voluntary and attorneys can request to have tethers removed from clients.
He also says that those who do not want to be tethered have options.
“Persons can be placed in detention, tethered, given a bond or released on their own recognizance. Each case is looked at individually. I don’t want to give you the impression that you [either] get an electronic tether or go to jail,” says Bailey.
He also says that the tether program tries to accommodate schedules.
“We don’t want it to be so restrictive that you can’t go to church or the doctor,” says Bailey.
But recreational outings — going to a movie or a park — are out of the question, says Bailey, who believes the program is going well.
“We have had a 100 percent success rate,” says Garrison Courtney, ICE spokesman. “People are showing up for court hearings and we haven’t lost track of them.”
Courtney says the program was created to better track people. In the past, only 14 percent of those released from detention facilities showed up to be deported.
The cost of the tether program is also much less than detention. It costs $3.80 a day per person in a tether compared to $54 a day per person in detention.
“Our intention is to take it nationally,” Courtney says of the program, which will be introduced in eight more cities before it goes nationwide.
“I think there are constitutional concerns,” says attorney Deborah Burlinski, who practices immigration law in Anchorage and has had two clients tethered.
“It applies to people who have no criminal background, not a flight risk, who have ties to the community and [yet] the immigration judges indicate that they have no discretion to alter decisions about the ankle bracelet,” says Burlinski
Attorney Tamara French, who attended the meeting with Bailey, says it is unclear how far ICE intends to expand the program.
“My greatest fear is they are trying to gauge public outrage,” says Birach. “If they don’t have any outrage, one day we will see all aliens in tethers.”
Bailey says that’s not likely.
“I just don’t see that in the future at all,” he says.
A 51-year-old Albanian woman who entered the country legally and never had been detained was placed in a tether last month, says Birach, who represents her.
The woman called him in October after ICE officials called to say they were coming to her home. Birach told his client, who wants to remain anonymous, that the officers probably wanted to confirm where she lived.
Upon arrival, ICE officers placed a tether on the woman, took over her phone line so it could be connected to an ICE-issued computer, and told her she needed to buy an additional phone with multiple lines if she wanted to operate her answering machine, says Birach. The ICE officials also issued her a document stating that she is allowed to leave her home from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. and is forbidden to be out on the weekends.
“My clients come here to escape persecution, not experience it,” says Birach.
The woman was ordered deported after her asylum claim was denied. She is appealing the denial in federal court, he says.
Birach, who is requesting that the tether be removed from the woman, questions how ICE decides who is tethered.
His other client — the Albanian man — had been released from a detention facility in September and tethered in October. Birach believes the measure is punitive.
“He is a family man. His boss sings his praises as one of the hardest workers he has ever had. … He has one brother who is a U.S. citizen and another who is a lawful permanent resident. He has no criminal background and a good driving record. In his case, he does not even have a final order of deportation,” Briach writes in an e-mail circulated to other AILA members.
Bailey says he cannot comment on individual cases but explains that a “matrix” is used to determine who will be placed on a tether.
He would not give details on criteria contained within the so-called matrix, or how it was devised.
“I can’t talk about it,” says Bailey. “But I can say that no individual groups are targeted. If a person qualifies for the program, we evaluate them individually.”
Bailey says ICE is looking for a cross section of people for the pilot program and is uncertain how many will be placed in tethers. That depends, in part, on his staff. Bailey has four people who spend 25 percent of their time monitoring tethered aliens within a 20-mile radius of Detroit. The Detroit office only has about 75 tethers and some are not in use because they’ve malfunctioned, says Bailey.
He says the pilot program was never intended to alleviate overcrowding in detention facilities and denies telling attorneys this.
“We need to know where people are,” says Bailey. “[The tether] doesn’t track you 24 hours a day, but tells us when you were home or left home, and before we didn’t know that.”
AILA lawyers plan to meet with national ICE officials this week to discuss the pilot program, says Crystal Williams, AILA director of liaison and information.
“Our concern is that this was initially used to get people out of jail,” says French, an AILA member. “But now it’s being expanded to people who were never in jail, and who likely would never have come into custody. We’re basically concerned about how far it’s going to go.”Ann Mullen is a Metro Times staff writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or