Report: ICE needs better database to track detainees

Migration Policy Institute recommends further review

A Homeland Security Department agency should make a comprehensive review of the databases and information systems it uses for tracking the 32,000 detainees it has in custody, according to a new report from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI).

The nonprofit institute examined DHS' Immigration and Customs Enforcement''s (ICE) database and case tracking system that was revamped in 2007. Its findings were inconclusive because ICE did not provide sufficient information about the system. The MPI published its 40-page report on its Web site Sept. 10.

“Since MPI was not able to review all of the data fields contained within the ICE detention database, we cannot say conclusively what information ICE does not track that it should,” the report states.

The report puts forth the idea that ICE may not be collecting and tracking all the information it needs to ensure that it is complying with existing laws and regulations, especially because varying standards apply to its criminal and non-criminal detainee populations.

“ICE may well need more information on detainees than it currently collects, particularly data that can inform and guide its legal and operational decisions related to custody reviews, eligibility for release or parole, placement in alternative-to-detention programs or even claims to U.S. citizenship," MPI Vice President for Programs Donald Kerwin, a co-author of the report, said in a news release.

"This report provides a road map for meeting the data needs essential for the new ICE detention [program] to succeed as it attempts to move from a criminal incarceration model to a civil detention system,” he said.

The report recommends that ICE:

  • Undertake an intensive analysis of its information systems, particularly its detention database and case tracking system.
  • Comprehensively review its contracts for detention space, with the goal of maximizing savings by expanding alternative programs;
  • Capture information that would allow ICE to adhere to its national standards, including information on when and how the agency has complied with the standards.
  • Collect all information related to detainees' medical needs, interventions, treatment and causes of death.

ICE traditionally had not released all its detainee data. For example, it has declared a number of Privacy Act exemptions for data being held for law enforcement purposes.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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