Get PolitiFact in your inbox.
If Your Time is short
- U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcements has been using a smartphone application since 2018 to track immigrants detained and released by the agency after entering the country illegally.
- ICE will give a smartphone loaded with the application to immigrants who do not have their own devices.
- The smartphones are not enabled for personal use and cannot make phone calls or browse the internet.
A tool used by the government to track people who entered the country illegally is being mischaracterized on social media as a smartphone giveaway.
"Joe Biden is giving smartphones away to illegal border crossers," Adams said. "This is an impeachable offense."
Although smartphones are being distributed to immigrants, their purpose and usability is very limited. Immigration officials are issuing the phones so they can monitor immigrants released from custody; the phones cannot be used for other purposes, like going on Facebook or calling friends.
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
Fox News reporter Bill Melugin shared photographs on Twitter a day before Adams’ tweet that reportedly showed the type of phone given to people detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Melugin said he was told by sources that detainees are "given these phones by the government to track them and allow them to communicate with ICE."
A spokesperson for ICE confirmed to PolitiFact that the agency gives smartphones to some immigrants who have been detained after entering the country illegally. The phones come with some caveats.
The devices do not have the capability to make personal phone calls, check social media or browse the internet, the spokesperson said.
Instead, the phones are pre-loaded with an application called SmartLINK as a way to track immigrants who have been released from detention and are awaiting a deportation hearing.
SmartLINK is part of ICE's Alternative to Detention program to closely track "non-detained noncitizens at varying levels of supervision, using several different monitoring technologies," ICE’s spokesperson said.
The app requires someone to check in with immigration officials either by uploading a selfie or answering a call from their case manager, according to the Associated Press.
The application was first used in 2018 to keep track of about 5,000 people, the AP reported. Now, ICE uses it to keep tabs on more than 125,000 immigrants.
Not all immigrants detained by ICE get a government-issued device, the agency’s spokesperson said.
"If a noncitizen acquires their own personally owned smartphone, the SmartLINK application can be loaded onto that device," the spokesperson said.
SmartLINK was developed by BI Inc., a subsidiary of private prison company the GEO Group. The BI Inc. logo appears on the box featured in Melugin’s photos.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged the smartphones during a briefing on April 8, saying it's one of several ways the government can track someone after being released from detention.
"Yes, there is telephonic reporting," she said. "There is SmartLINK, which enables participant monitoring via smartphone. There’s the Global Positioning System. These are the range of means with modern technology that we monitor."
The SmartLINK monitoring program has been used by past administrations, including the Trump administration.
Adams’ claim about the phones being an impeachable offense for Biden doesn’t hold much water, either.
The Constitution says a sitting president can be removed from office if they are convicted of "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors."
Adams doesn’t provide a reason as to why the issuance of smartphones is grounds for impeachment.
A Facebook post claims immigrants who enter the country illegally are receiving smartphones under President Biden and argues that he should be impeached for it.
The smartphones given to immigrants detained by ICE are used to track them with a pre-installed application after being released from custody. The phones cannot be used for anything else.
ICE has been using the phones and the tracking application since 2018, before Biden became president.
The post is partially accurate, but leaves out important details and context. We rate it Half True.
UPDATE, April 18, 2022: This post has been updated to clarify with more specificity the nature of the Seklow show's commentary regarding the phones. The rating is unchanged.
Facebook post, April 11, 2022
Nick Adams Twitter post, April 6, 2022
Archive of April 6 Twitter post
Bill Melugin Twitter post, April 5, 2022
Email with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson, April 13, 2022
Associated Press, "Deportation agents use smartphone app to monitor immigrants," March 10, 2022
The GEO Group, Who We Are, accessed April 12, 2022
White House, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Jen Psaki, April 8, 2022
U.S. Constitution, Article II Section Four
Read About Our Process
In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.