The Biden administration is developing a new identification card for migrants to serve as a one-stop shop to access immigration files and, eventually, be accepted by the Transportation Security Administration for travel, according to two Homeland Security officials.
The initiative is part of an ongoing effort by the Biden administration to streamline processes that have often led to confusion among immigrants who are in removal proceedings – and comes as officials grapple with growing arrivals at the US-Mexico border.
Republicans have seized on President Joe Biden’s handling of the US southern border and slammed the administration’s immigration policies, including downsizing detention and limiting immigration arrests to focus on security risks. The latest initiative by ICE is likely to also field criticism from some within the GOP.
But officials say the card, likened to a photo ID, will facilitate accountability in the immigration process. The card – dubbed a “Secure Docket Card” – is expected to include name and nationality, as well as a QR code to access a new portal with relevant immigration information.
That portal is intended to provide a simpler way for individuals to update their information and check in with federal authorities as they go through the immigration process. The card is expected to also be provided to immigrants in detention.
“Fifty percent of the problems that migrants have in just staying accountable in the process is because we’re not communicating well,” one DHS official said. “People are going to be smoothly, efficiently, humanely working through the immigration process.”
The card can be used as identification but can’t be used to register to vote. Only US citizens can vote. Eventually, the card could also be utilized at airports for travel in the future, the official said. TSA currently accepts some immigration documents as valid identification to travel.
“The ICE Secure Docket Card (SDC) program is part of a pilot program to modernize various forms of documentation provided to provisionally released noncitizens through a consistent, verifiable, secure card. The secure card will contain a photo, biographic identifiers, and cutting-edge security features to the mutual benefit of the government and noncitizens,” an ICE spokesperson said in a statement.
“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 real world use. Pending the outcome of the pilot, ICE will consider further expansion,” the spokesperson added.
A recent report from the House Appropriations Committee report mentioned the so-called ICE Secure Docket Card program and the $10 million appropriated to get it off the ground.
The report, which accompanies the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill for fiscal year 2023, describes the program as allowing “noncitizens access to immigration files and documents.”
The agency plans to pilot the card by the end of the year, the Homeland Security official said.
Jeremy McKinney, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, expressed optimism about the card.
“If ICE is moving in a new direction in which eligible non-citizens can report on their status, provide information about their location and address, receive case management support to help them understand and prepare for hearings, without the need for electronic surveillance or jail cells, AILA welcomes that approach,” McKinney told CNN.
The card will also supplement those who are enrolled in “alternatives to detention,” or ATD, according to the DHS official. A rapidly growing number of people have been placed in ATD following a shift away from detention and the arrival of more nationalities that can’t be turned away under a Trump-era pandemic emergency rule.
Migrants released from government custody still undergo immigration court proceedings to determine whether they are allowed to remain in the United States or be deported. But the process can take years and involves multiple check ins with various immigration agencies.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement is monitoring more than 300,000 migrants on ATD, which can include GPS ankle monitors, phones or an app known as SmartLINK, according to the official.
The Secure Docket Card would also allow authorities to verify whether an immigrant was released from custody “and/or charged as removable from the United States,” according to ICE.
Immigrant rights advocates have previously argued that expanding the alternatives to detention program creates new problems and raises major privacy concerns over data collection.
While the development of an all-encompassing portal for immigrants is still underway,
Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst who works on privacy issues at the American Civil Liberties Union, noted that in general, storing personal data in one place raises privacy risks.
“It allows bureaucrats to learn more about you, see more about you,” Stanley told CNN. “It can be case by case. It can be convenient for users in some circumstances, but the devil is in the details depending on what information we’re talking about.”