Immigration Courts Swamped as Number of Non-Detained Migrant Cases Doubles Under President Biden

The new report raises concerns that ICE’s ‘Alternatives to Detention’ program poses a ‘gaping vulnerability’ in national security.

AP/Gregory Bull
Migrants wait along a border wall on August 23, 2022, after crossing from Mexico near Yuma, Arizona. AP/Gregory Bull

The number of migrants freed under the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s so-called “Alternatives to Detention” program has reached 7.4 million and is expected to hit 8 million by the end 2024, according to federal data obtained by Fox News. 

The number of cases under the program has more than doubled since President Biden took office, when the docket stood at just 3.7 million cases. 

The newly released data indicates a “gaping vulnerability” in American national security, former assistant FBI Director Chris Swecker tells Fox. 

The migrants under the ICE’s non-detained docket are released from ICE detention and provided with case-management support. The program, the agency claims, has helped “support noncitizens compliance with release conditions” and “increased court appearance rates.” 

The program is meant to offer an alternative to migrant detention centers, which have been criticized for their poor conditions and high costs. Each migrant under the program costs less than $8 per day to manage, according to the ICE website, in contrast to the $150 it costs to keep one in detention.  

Migrants accepted into the program will have been evaluated based on criminal and immigration history, family and community ties, status as a caregiver, and humanitarian or medical considerations. ICE employs various methods — including GPS ankle monitors and phone call tracking — to keep track of the non-detained migrants as their cases progress. 

The agency has reportedly been overwhelmed by the high number of migrants on the docket, with each ICE officer being tasked with managing an average of 7,000 cases. And the strain is only getting worse as the number of border crossings — and thus the number of cases given to the ICE — only continues to grow. The docket of non-detained migrants has seen more than 1 million new cases since the beginning of October. 

Additionally, the program has come under fire as recent reports of crimes committed by migrants who were caught and released by ICE have spurred uproar. 

Just last week, eight Tajik nationals who were allowed into the country by immigration authorities after requesting asylum at the southern border were later found to have connections to ISIS. After an emergency investigation, the men were found and placed in federal custody. 

In addition to the 7.4 migrants in the non-detained docket, there are reportedly 1.9 million migrants who have evaded border patrol agents and entered the country without any contact with the Department of Homeland Security — known as “gotaways” — since Mr. Biden took office. ICE agents are also responsible for tracking down and deporting those migrants. 

The report comes amid the Department of Homeland Security’s growing struggle to handle the record number of migrant attempts to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. As a result of operating on a historically underfunded budget and grappling with costly detention facilities and deportation flights, ICE reportedly faces a $700 million deficit. 

With immigration consistently ranking as the top issue for American voters, the efforts of Mr. Biden and his administration to curb illegal immigration face mounting scrutiny. A recent poll by YouGov suggests that 59 percent of Americans disapprove of his immigration policies compared to just 36 percent who offer their approval. 

President Trump has floated a new approach to illegal immigration, suggesting that, if elected, he would place tariffs against — or in his words, “tariff the hell out of” — any country that doesn’t take measures to prevent border crossings from their territory into America. 

Similar to his past campaigns, Trump has made his tough approach to border enforcement a key characteristic of his bid for presidency, hoping to capture the votes of those dissatisfied with Mr. Biden’s policy regime in the run-up to November’s election.


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