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Biden Officials Planning New ID for Migrants

FILE - A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer checks the documents of migrants who are on their way to apply for asylum in the United States, on International Bridge 1 as they depart Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, Sept. 17, 2019.
FILE - A U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer checks the documents of migrants who are on their way to apply for asylum in the United States, on International Bridge 1 as they depart Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, Sept. 17, 2019.

The Biden administration is working on a new identification card to be issued to immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border that would allow U.S. immigration officials and migrants to more quickly access their files. The card would someday be accepted by the Transportation Security Administration for travel inside the United States.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson told VOA the card, called a Secure Docket Card, is part of a push to modernize and streamline the paperwork given to immigrants when they are processed at the southern border through a consistent, verifiable and secure card.

ICE is completing the required pilot notification to Congress, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is asking for $10 million to launch the initiative during fiscal 2023.

The new ID card will include photo, name, nationality and a QR code to access a new portal with the immigrant’s information, allowing the noncitizen to log in to a website — still in development — to schedule and check on ICE reporting requirements and hearing dates with the immigration court.

“Specifics of the program are still under development, but a primary goal of the SDC is to improve current, inconsistent paper forms that often degrade rapidly in the real-world use,” an ICE spokesperson wrote in an email, adding that the agency is planning to launch a pilot program by the end of the year.

Is SDC only for migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border?

Initially, yes. But the ICE spokesperson said the agency will consider expanding it depending upon the success of the pilot program.

The administration is hoping to get the necessary congressional approval before the November elections.

How will this benefit migrants and the government?

According to ICE, when an immigration officer encounters a noncitizen with an SDC, that officer can easily verify the card through DHS systems and determine whether the migrant is seeking asylum or possibly has a deportation order.

For the noncitizen, the card's QR code will allow them to access a website where they can schedule ICE reporting obligations and check on hearing dates with the immigration court.

“[I’m] cautiously optimistic. … If a docket card makes [the immigration] process more efficient, then it's going to make it easier for the client. It's going to make it easier for the government. And it will literally demonstrate what we knew all along, which is: If you give our clients facing removal the tools to comply, they will comply,” said Jeremy McKinney, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).

But, Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, shared concerns about privacy risks when it comes to storing personal data in one place.

“It allows bureaucrats to learn more about you, see more about you,” Stanley, who works on privacy issues, told CNN.

Congressman Jeff Van Drew, a Republican from New Jersey, said he is writing legislation to halt the Biden administration from issuing ID cards to asylum seekers.

Van Drew told Newsmax, a conservative news website, that the only thing migrants should be able to access is “a trip back across the border.”

“So I'm doing legislation that is saying not one American tax dollar, or for that matter, any American dollar can be spent for these cards,” he said.

The card will be eventually used as form of identification at airports for travel inside the United States. Currently, TSA accepts a Notice to Appear (NTA) as valid identification to travel. The NTA, issued by ICE, orders an individual to appear before an immigration judge on a specific date to continue immigration proceedings in court.

Will the card be a supplement to the Alternatives to Detention Program?

Yes. Under current law, depending on the situation, ICE “may or must” release noncitizens, U.S. immigration officials said, and the legal paperwork provided to noncitizens varies significantly, case by case. Before migrants are released from custody, those seeking asylum must convince a federal immigration officer they have a well-founded fear of being persecuted in their home country because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinions.

From there, they are to undergo immigration proceedings to determine if they will be allowed to remain in the United States or be deported. Because of an immigration court backlog of more than 1.6 million cases, the asylum process can take years, and asylum-seekers must check in with different U.S. immigration agencies.

The SDC would make it easier for immigrants to check on their court date and check in with immigration officials, a requirement of the Alternatives to Detention program.

What is the Alternatives to Detention Program?

Alternatives to Detention (ATD) is a program that releases immigrants from border officials’ custody and places them into a specific monitoring program. It is geared toward vulnerable immigrants, such as unaccompanied minors, pregnant women, families with young children and nursing mothers.

Those subjected to mandatory detention do not qualify for ATD, generally related to crime.

More people have been placed under ATD since the Biden administration steered away from a Trump-era decision to shut down the program for those seeking asylum.

Under the Trump administration, everyone was detained, including families who were often held at family detention centers as they waited for court hearings.

Currently, ICE allows those in the program to use ankle bracelets for GPS location monitoring, smartphone applications such as SmartLink for facial recognition and GPS-location monitoring, and reporting in through phone calls.

According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research institution at Syracuse University, people often remain under ATD monitoring for several years. As of July 16, 296,250 people are being monitored through ICE's ATD programs.

What are the initial thoughts on the new initiative?

Some immigrant rights advocates have raised concerns over safely securing private data, constant monitoring and the efficiency of government going digital for immigration purposes.

“That’s why I’m cautiously optimistic. … The government and technology have not always been a match made in heaven," said McKinney of AILA. "I'm concerned about the technology not making it more efficient or making it more burdensome because our clients don't understand, can't use it, or it’s not user-friendly. And the second concern, of course, is privacy.”

But Stanley of the ACLU said the ID in a case-by-case can be convenient for users in some circumstances.

“The devil is in the details depending on what information we’re talking about,” he said.

Those released from U.S. custody at the border on conditions must notify the U.S. government of certain situations such as change or address or if they are planning to move to another U.S. state than the one provided during initial processing. Sometimes, migrants need advanced permission from ICE to move to a new state.

“But it doesn't give permission for ICE to track a person's every movement. So, of course there's always going to be the concern in the immigrant community that ICE is using these cards to literally track people,” McKinney added.