Back in 2009, the government outsourced a significant amount of the IT work for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to a company called Electronic Data Systems. Though that particular name didn’t last long, the company, now called DXC Technologies’, partnership with ICE did. From 2009 to 2013, the company was paid millions of dollars by the U.S. government in order to develop and maintain digital management systems used by ICE. In 2010 alone it was awarded a $41.6 million contract in order to develop systems “to help speed internal processes regarding immigration status determination” for ICE and the Law Enforcement Support Center (LESC). Eight years later, the government is still paying DXC and its many, many subsidiaries millions of dollars annually for a program that, no matter the input, tells the user to detain an undocumented immigrant indefinitely, rather than release them on bond.
ICE officially started using the custom-made tool, called the Risk Classification Assessment (RCA), back in January 2013 in response to a 2009 era internal review of the department’s immigration detention practices. Designed as part of ICE’s Enforcement Case Tracking System (ENFORCE) — which was also maintained and updated by Electronic Data Systems — the RCA was supposed to help ICE determine whether a particular immigrant should be detained while waiting for legal proceedings (which can often take years) or released on bond, help set an appropriate bond amount, and classify what level of custody is necessary. ICE doesn’t have the literal space to detain each and every undocumented immigrant it processes — nor should it be doing so in the first place, but that’s a different matter — and the RCA was ostensibly designed to help streamline the decision making process.
However, the tool has been an ineffective waste of time and money since its inception. A 2015 investigation by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security agreed, but presumably for different reasons; it found the module “time consuming, resource intensive, and not effective in determining which aliens to release or under what conditions.” The RCA system wasn’t able to handle complex cases or “enhance the quality of ERO field office release decisions” whatsoever, and would instead defer to a real human when faced with anything complicated. It failed to issue recommendation for 41,971 of the 228,095 cases it was assigned between July 2012 and December 2013. And when the system did make a recommendation, immigration officers ultimately ended up overriding its choice more than one-fifth of the time.
Though ICE claims it reduced these override rates in the following year, we hadn’t seen anything yet: When Donald Trump assumed office, it was forcibly changed to blindly recommend mass detention for all immigrants. According to Reuters, ICE changed the RCA module to more accurately reflect Trump’s policies by removing the the system’s ability to recommend an immigrant be released on bond, leaving indefinite detention or a manual override as the only two remaining options. As of 2018, the government has paid DXC and its subsidiaries over $37 million for its IT maintenance services on programs like the RCA that appear to be doing absolutely nothing of value.