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ICE testing new monitoring program on migrant youth in Denver

Immigrant advocates are alarmed about the program and the company running it
Young Adult Case Management Program
Posted at 5:45 PM, Oct 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-05 21:18:35-04

DENVER — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is launching a new monitoring program for teenage migrants in Denver and other cities across the country. Immigrant rights advocates told Denver7 they’re worried about the program’s approach and the company hired to run it.

The Young Adult Case Management Program (YACMP) is intended to keep 18 and 19-year-olds “who pose a low flight risk” out of detention while they navigate their court hearings by connecting them with community services, according to an ICE description of the program.

YACMP is one of ICE’s new monitoring programs considered an “alternative to detention.” But unlike other surveillance programs recently launched in Denver, YACMP is specifically for young adults.

“What's really hard about this program is that it's putting its finger on an actual problem, which is that youth are uniquely vulnerable and in need of services. But it really is providing the wrong solution,” said Azadeh Erfani, a senior policy analyst with the National Immigrant Justice Center, which partnered with the Women’s Refugee Commission and Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights to examine the program.

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When ICE was considering creating YACMP in 2021, nearly 100 immigration advocacy groups warned against having an enforcement agency like ICE in charge of providing community services to youth.

“They didn't listen to us and they moved forward,” Erfani said.

Denver is among more than a dozen cities where ICE will try YACMP. To run the program, ICE hired the company Acuity International, previously known as Caliburn International.

“Caliburn International has been mired in a lot of scandals with respect to the [alleged] sexual abuse of children, as well as warehousing children and prison-like conditions in Florida” under the Trump administration in 2019, Erfani said.

The company, which switched its name from Caliburn to Acuity in 2021, currently has several other federal contracts, including with the Departments of Defense and Agriculture.

John Kelly, who served as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security under the Trump administration, was on Caliburn’s board of directors in 2019 when the company ran the detention center in Florida for unaccompanied child migrants. Since the company became Acuity, Kelly appears to have joined the board again.

So far, ICE has paid Acuity more than $23 million to run YACMP, with $2 million of that compensating the company’s executives, according to the government’s USA Spending website.

Denver7 has reached out to ICE and Acuity about YACMP since June. The company referred our request to ICE, but ICE public affairs declined to answer our questions and instead directed us to publicly available records. This week, an ICE public affairs officer told Denver7 "we have nothing further to add on this program at this time.”

ICE would not confirm if YACMP is currently active in Denver, but Denver was included on ICE’s list of cities where YACMP would be launched, and a local legal service provider told Denver7 they are aware of young people being enrolled on the Front Range.

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Acuity has been hiring case managers in more than a dozen cities, including two jobs listed in Denver, according to the company’s website.

While YACMP has case management in its name, Erfani said it doesn’t function that way.

"YACMP is very much a referral machine, for the most part. So, it's just sending youth to different organizations that are supposed to then meet their needs,” she said.

Those service providers are not paid as part of the program.

“None of the funding is actually going to those organizations who are providing the real services,” Erfani said.

Unlike most case management programs, participants don’t opt-in voluntarily. ICE describes YACMP as primarily focused on monitoring teen migrants to promote compliance.

“Youth are actually required to comply, and it's incredibly difficult for them to disenroll,” Erfani said.

Once youths are enrolled, Erfani said advocates worry there could be an escalation from this monitoring program to surveillance with a tracking device or detention, particularly after the young people reach 20 years old and age out of YACMP.

"The likelihood of detention is always going to cast a shadow," she said.

Several immigrant rights advocacy groups, including the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, told Denver7 they believe it would be more effective and less costly to invest in “community-based social workers and shelter providers who are best equipped to offer these services safely and confidentially.”

"Protecting youth requires us to invest in the services that truly keep them safe, not programs like YACMP that unnecessarily subject them to heightened monitoring and surveillance and fail to protect their privacy,” the Young Center said.

Several conservative groups have also taken issue with ICE's alternative to detention programs, including YACMP. FAIR and the Heritage Foundation have said ICE programs should monitor migrants and enforce compliance but not provide access to services.

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