Oakland – According to a civil rights complaint filed by Centro Legal de la Raza (Centro Legal), Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, East Bay Community Law Center and the San Francisco Immigrant Legal Defense Collaborative on behalf of 15 asylum seekers, GPS-enabled electronic monitoring devices – also known as ankle shackles – are negatively impacting their mental and physical health. The complainants describe how the shackles, along with burdensome and arbitrary reporting requirements, infringe on their liberty and on their right to seek protection in the United States.

The asylum seekers – primarily mothers with young children – fled their homes in Central America and Mexico to escape life threatening domestic abuse, gang and gender based violence.

According to internal agency communications released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has adopted a blanket policy of placing all adults with children on the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP) and requiring asylum seekers to wear the ankle shackles. Initially conceived as an alternative to detention for those subject to mandatory custody under the law, the ISAP, which is run through a contract with a private prison company, has become the norm for asylum seeking families, even in the absence of alleged danger or flight risk.

In the words of DSG a Salvadoran mother who was shackled for 14 months, “When my attorney went to the ISAP office with me… they made her wait in the waiting room and told her she could not come into the back of the office where the officer spoke with me.” DSG and other women detail the physical harm they suffer due to the shackles which include, electric shocks, bleeding blisters, numbness, bone and joint pain and bruising.. “Ankle shackles and the other cumbersome requirements of the ISAP violate the due process rights of asylum seekers yet leave them with no recourse”, explains Eleni Wolfe-Roubatis, Immigration Program Director of Centro Legal, “because ICE prohibits the ISAP employees from speaking directly to attorneys.”

The complainants’s recommendations include the adoption of clear, consistent and achievable criteria for the removal of ankle shackles in individual cases. “There is absolutely no reason for asylum seekers to be shackled,” says Wolfe-Roubatis, “but, if ICE insists on continuing to work with a private prison company to issue these shackles, at a minimum, the process for removing them must be more transparent.”

The complaint demands that ICE stop prioritizing asylum seeking families for removal, eliminate the use of ankle shackles for asylum seekers and replace for-profit alternative to detention programs such as ISAP with community-based models. In the interim while these goals are achieved, the complainants urge ICE to apply clear, consistent and achievable criteria for removal of ankle shackles, increase training and oversight of the ISAP officers, require the ISAP officers to communicate with attorneys.