How RILA Works With ICE

In the days of the “Abolish ICE” movement, many of RILA’s supporters are actually surprised to learn that we have built a good, working relationship with the local ICE office and several of its officers. RILA exists to help immigrants navigate the legal process of seeking asylum, and for many RILA clients, ICE is a significant component of this process.  We have learned that ICE is an essential partner in serving our clients and upholding their dignity.

When asylum seekers are released into the U.S., many of them are enrolled into an “alternative to detention” or “ATD” program. This program allows asylum seekers to live independently, and gives them the dignity of leading a more normal life, outside of a detention facility. However, this independence does come with a few strings attached. Most adult asylum seekers will need to wear an electronic ankle monitor, attend check-ins with an ICE sub-contractor every other week, and will also need to be available for periodic home visits. Any violation of these stipulations, even for minor reasons, can actually result in an asylum seeker being placed into detention. In addition, they are expected to find legal representation, obtain passports for any dependent children, and surrender these passports to ICE. These measures are in place to ensure that asylum seekers attend their court hearings and stay out of trouble while waiting for their case to be heard in court.

Most new clients come to RILA with an ankle monitor, and they are very anxious to have it removed. Aside from the stigma surrounding these ankle monitors, sometimes they can be painfully tight, or can cause minor burns or abrasions.  

We advocate on behalf of our clients with ICE to lessen the restrictions that have been placed on them, including the ankle monitor.  We are able to say that our clients want to comply with all requirements of ICE and Immigration court, and are working hard with us to prepare their asylum applications.  We are able to communicate to ICE the character of our clients- who are hard-working, honest people seeking safety for their families.

Asylum seekers’ cases are reviewed every 90 days, and we have seen most clients removed from the ATD program after about 6-12 months of being in the United States, with the expectation that they will keep going to their court hearings and check in with their ICE deportation officer a couple of times a year.

Occasionally, something occurs so that a client is in the supervision program for significantly longer, or the ankle monitor is unusually painful.  In these cases, we will reach out to our contacts at the local ICE office. The first few times we did this, we felt a little hesitant, unsure about how these requests would be received. However, we have found these ICE officers to be extremely courteous, professional, and responsive. It turns out that they are just as eager for our clients to get quality legal representation as we are!

In addition to helping remove clients from supervision, our contacts at ICE have helped us learn more about the supervision process and given us information to pass along to our clients to ease some of their anxiety about attending an ICE meeting. They have even alerted us to a concerning home situation for one of our clients, and in another case, they helped us report that the abuser of one of our clients was attempting to cross the U.S. border!

We are grateful for the working relationship that we have with the local ICE officers. Our services to these clients would be much more challenging without their collaboration. Though we certainly can’t speak for the entirety of ICE as an institution, we are grateful for those in our local office who help us support and affirm the dignity of our clients.

Heather Hall