Others say one solution to the complaints is to deport immigrants faster.
“You get a lawyer and you can delay deportation for years,” said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Washington-based Federation for American Immigration Reform. “There’s absolutely no reason why anybody should feel that we need to apologize to people for keeping track of them, when we know that if you release illegal immigrants unsupervised and unmonitored, chances are you’re never going to see them again.”
But last year, a Rutgers School of Law report found that many immigrants in the alternatives-to-detention program did not even match ICE’s top priorities, which are serious criminals and other threats to public safety.
According to ICE, about 47 percent of the immigrants under BI’s supervision are convicted criminals, while 22 percent have pending charges, though it is unclear if they are traffic violations or serious crimes. The remaining 31 percent have clean records.
On one recent visit to BI’s office in Burlington, a few immigrants sat in the boxy waiting room and waited for an employee to slide open a glass window and call out, “Next.” Immigrants jumped up, disappeared behind a door, and then left within minutes.
The scene is familiar to scores of immigrants caught in the March 2007 immigration raid on a New Bedford defense contractor, who are still pleading their cases six years later. Lawyers say many immigrants fear for their lives if deported to countries such as Honduras, which federal records show now has the highest homicide rate in the world.
Martha, a 32-year-old immigrant caught in the raid, has no criminal record but she travels here twice a month, gets random home visits from BI, and fields a phone call every Friday. She has worn ankle monitors on and off.
And since BI followed ICE from Boston to Burlington, the price of the trip has more than doubled, to $50.
“I do not consider myself a criminal,” said Martha, who asked not to be fully named because gangs have threatened her family in Honduras. “The only bad thing I did was to come to this country to look for something better for me and my family.”
Among the New Bedford immigrants, the monitoring can vary in the same family. Fatima Lopez, a 30-year-old immigrant from El Salvador, says she visits BI twice a year, while her mother goes six times a year.
Urbina, the seamstress from Honduras, is among those immigrants who could have been detained because she skipped her court hearing and was ordered deported a year before she was caught in New Bedford. But she said officials released her on her own recognizance and she has never missed a hearing.
Yet in 2011, a BI official affixed a GPS device to her ankle because her immigration agent said to do it. Once, it sounded an alarm when she was teaching religious classes at church.
“I’m still hoping they will take it off me,” Urbina said. “It’s horrible. When I was in Burlington in a store, people stared at the monitor. A woman grabbed her child and took her away from me. There are people who wonder, ‘What did she do?’ ”