When “Libre” does not mean Freedom

In my past posts I have identified several issues with the lack of safeguards in immigration bond proceedings. During the course of my research I called several bond companies and inquired about their services. In this post I want to explore what happens when immigration judges set bond amounts that are too high for families to afford and they are forced to contract with bond companies.

Immigration bond, if paid directly to ICE, needs to be paid in full. When bond is set at an amount that a detainee and their family cannot afford, they often contract with bond companies to get a “surety bond” – a promise that they will either pay the full amount or comply with other terms as set in the contract. Most companies require collateral, usually in the form of a house with enough equity, a credit card with enough credit to cover the full amount of the bond, cash, or a combination of these three assets. One of the bail bond agents I spoke with claimed that there is a 90% chance that if the bond is paid directly to ICE the bond will be “lost”; not refunded once the proceeding is over.

Most bond companies also charge a one-time premium, based on the total bond amount, usually between 15% to 20%. This premium is higher than the usual 10% in criminal cases; the reason given by bond companies is that the risk that immigrants will not show up to court is higher than in criminal cases. There may also be other processing fees. Some other bond companies require a non-refundable premium each year, usually 10%, until the case is closed. Since immigration proceedings can take years, immigrants and their families can end up paying thousands of dollars in fees alone.

The Religious Based Organization “Helping” Families Reunite:

But there is a new type of business that has emerged to service those who do not have property or other assets to use as collateral. The name is “Libre” by Nexus, a Virginia based company whose “GPS program” provides what they describe as a “critical service [that] guarantees the immigration bond, and uses the GPS to secure the bond” without requiring any collateral.

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Nexus runs several privately owned businesses offering financial help and legal support for immigrants detained nationwide. According to Nexus’s website, they have five offices in California, including one in San Francisco.

According to an article published in 2015, Nexus Services, which is the parent company of “Libre by Nexus”, was founded in 2008 as a non-profit that provided “GPS tracking ankle bracelets for criminal suspects” with the idea of reducing jail overcrowding. In 2013, it became a for-profit business, expanding to other areas, such as drug and alcohol treatment and monitoring programs, a property division that rents or sells homes and business spaces to their immigrant customers, and, more recently, Nexus Caridades, a non-profit providing free legal services to immigrants in detention and removal proceedings.

The GPS tracking program is the core of Nexus. But the fees and practices of this company have raised red flags and many are concerned about what they consider to be fraudulent practices by the company. Libre by Nexus’s website describes it not as a bail bond company, but as one that contracts with bail bond companies that actually post the immigration bond. Nexus claims to either pay the full amount of the bond to the bail bond company or place other property as collateral.

Nexus requires a “co-signer”, someone responsible for ensuring that the individual detained complies with ICE’s orders and shows up to court. This person does not have to be a Legal Permanent Resident or Citizen, which many immigrants may see as an advantage. It also requires two pictures, one of the individual detained and another of the place the individual will live once released, and a list of three references. Once the application has been approved, the families have to pay a one-time nonrefundable 20% premium, based upon the total amount of the bond, plus an $880 processing and installation fee for bonds over $5,000, also non-refundable. Nexus’s website claims that they do not keep any of that money, but one of Nexus’s agents told me that the 20% premium gets “divided”. She did not know how it gets divided, only that the fee was the equivalent of “interest” that the company keeps; it does not get paid to the actual bail bond company.

IMG_0965After the initial fee is paid then a GPS bracelet is placed on the immigrant as soon as he is released. After the first month, the families must pay a monthly non-refundable $420 rental fee for the GPS; the first month is “free”. The rental fee does not get applied to the bond amount. Once the individual is released there are two options, pay 80% of the bond at once and have the GPS removed, then pay the 20% remaining in monthly installments; or wear the GPS, pay the monthly rental fee, and anything additional gets applied to the bond balance. Once 80% of the bond has been paid, which could take several months or years, then the GPS will be removed and the immigrant will be responsible for monthly payments for the remaining 20%.

Another option is that once the immigrant gets released, but only after their release, they place a house or other property as collateral. The approval process takes one to three months, during which the GPS rental fee will continue to be paid. Regular bail bond companies accept collateral before paying the bond, but not Nexus.

So what is wrong with Libre by Nexus?

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Several clients of Nexus have come forward and complained about what they consider are the predatory practices of this company. Nexus responded by suing Byron Vazquez, Director of Casa de La Cultura de Guatemala, Los Angeles based non-profit.

In 2013, the office of the Commonwealth Attorney for the State of Virginia, (CWA) the Fairfax City Police Department, and ICE Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) – an agency in charge of criminal and civil investigations involving national security threats, identity fraud, benefit fraud, or commercial fraud – all began investigating the practices of Libre by Nexus. The investigation began after several attorneys complained about what they considered were Nexus’s fraudulent practices. But to this date no charges have been filed against Nexus or any of its agents. A few weeks ago, I was provided the opportunity to review hundreds of pages of documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act which gave me a better insight into how Nexus operates, and, while I cannot share those documents at this moment, here is what I found.

Many clients of Nexus have come forward and complained about the company’s practices. Here is a list of some of these practices and the red flags they raise:

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Maria, a Guatemalan immigrant, shows the contract for her electronic monitor.  (Photo by Aurelia Ventura/La Opinion)
  1. Nexus’s contracts states that they agree “to track the defendant pursuant to the bond set in the client’s local case, which currently is docketed in the EOIR IMMIGRATION Court” (See page 5). However, if a judge does not condition the bond on any kind of GPS monitoring, how can Nexus make the claim they are monitoring pursuant to conditions set by the Court?
  2. While Nexus does not make this express claim in writing, its agents have visited prospective clients in detention and have told them that they need, or that ICE or the immigration judge requires them, to contract with Nexus in order to “get out”. But ICE claims, and Nexus acknowledges in writing, that they are not affiliated with ICE or any other government agency and that they do not make release decisions (Page 5). However, there is a certain element of coercion when ordained ministers, employed by Nexus, visit desperate detainees and tell them that their only hope at getting out is Nexus.
  3. Attorneys have reported that judges have required their clients to comply with Nexus’s Programs. In at least one case, an immigration judge in Arlington conditioned, in writing, that a detainee be released on a $20,000 bond and comply with the Nexus program. As I wrote in my last post, judges have great discretion, but they also have the duty to be “Impartial” –“An Immigration Judge shall act impartially and shall not give preferential treatment to any organization or individual when adjudicating the merits of a particular case.” (5 C.F.R. § 2635.101(b)(8)). To be clear, immigration judges can set a condition that a detainee wear a GPS device in order to be released, or set other “terms of release” (8 C.F.R. § 1236.1(d)(1)), but they have to do it through a government sponsor program. For instance, GEO’s Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP) is an alternative to detention program that provides GPS monitoring for the Department of Homeland Security. Nexus, as far as I can tell, does not have a contract with ICE the same way the GEO group does. While judges may not be violating the law, at the very least one can argue that they are abusing their discretion by failing to remain impartial and ordering compliance with a non-governmental program. See 5 C.F.R. § 2635.101(b)(8).
  4. When clients have complained about the GPS or the fees, Nexus agents have told them that if they remove the GPS then the judge will revoke the bond. Now, this is not correct, at least not in theory. If the judge does not release an individual on the condition that he wears a Nexus GPS (which the judge should not do; see (5 F.R. § 2635.101(b)(8)) then neither the judge nor ICE should be able to revoke the bond. However, Nexus can ask the bail bond company to contact ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) and ask them to take the immigrant back for not complying with the bond requirements. Most officers comply with these requests. A bail bond company can always revoke bail and ICE can take the immigrant back into custody. But in this case, the immigrant contracts directly with Nexus and not with a bail bond company. However, Nexus has found a way to use ICE to essentially “enforce” their contract by having the bond company make the request with ERO. It is not clear what the bail bond companies get out of this or what the actual financial arrangement is between them and Nexus. Even if this is not illegal, it raises a lot of concerns and leaves a lot of room for abuse.
  5. Traditional Bail Bond Companies, such as Freedom Bail Bonds, have promoted Nexus as a program that can help get immigrants out of detention. In some cases, bail bond companies that work with Nexus have charged clients an initial 15% premium to post the bond and have then referred clients to Nexus to have a bracelet placed on them. This means that if an immigrant has an $18,000 bond, he will pay $2,250 to the bail bond company and $3,130 to Nexus. But this makes no sense. If an individual can contract with a bail bond company directly then it is likely because that person can provide collateral, so there is no need to secure the bond through a Nexus GPS. It is not clear whether bail bond companies receive any payment or commission from Nexus, but if they do then they have found a way to make even more money off unsuspecting and desperate clients.
  6. In certain cases, where clients were granted bond and were ordered to enroll in an Alternative to Detention (ATD) Program as a condition for release – meaning they had to wear a GPS device provided by BI Monitoring Operation (owned by the GEO Group) — they were told by Nexus that they also had to wear a second GPS provided by them. The issue is that they were never provided a GPS from Nexus, but they still had to pay $320 a month, after a $100 “discount” for already having an ISAP GPS. If Nexus’ claim that “ICE does not share supervision information with Nexus and Nexus does not share supervision information with ICE” is true, how could Nexus charge for monitoring that was only done by ICE if Nexus and ICE were in fact not sharing information? But more importantly, how is it that none of the agencies that “investigated” Nexus in 2013 brought charges against the company? Several incident reports were filed in Fairfax County alone, yet the Virginia Commonwealth Attorney refused to file charges unless the GPS devices were “not functioning”. But, in some cases this element couldn’t be established simply because these clients were never provided with a GPS device.
  7. Nexus charges an initial nonrefundable assessment fee, usually $600 (Page 5). The fee is waived upon release and credited to the first month lease and activation fee, so when Nexus says that the first month is ‘free’ it really isn’t. If the detainee is not released, then Nexus makes their “report(s)” available for presentation at Immigration Bond hearings. In other words, they act as a private pre-trial services type of agency, draft a report and hand it over to the immigrant’s family, who many times are convinced this report will help secure the release of their loved one. But Nexus does not play a role in release determinations, as far as I can tell, and I could not find a copy of the type of report Nexus provides the families or the court.
  8. Nexus has encouraged clients to fire their attorneys and hire Nexus recommended attorneys. The company recently expanded Nexus Caridades, a non-profit providing free legal services for those who qualify. While not illegal, this raises even more red flags. One can see how this may create conflicts of interest. Clients of Nexus have complained about the payments, the bracelet, and the service to their attorneys, and in some cases attorneys have removed the GPS devices and marched into Nexus’s office to return the device and inform them that the client will no longer make the payments. I could not find any evidence that Nexus has retaliated against those who are represented by private counsel. But what happens if the client is represented by one of Nexus’s attorneys? Would they do the same? Would they contact the attorney general when their clients are paying for a device they never received? I think the answer is obvious.
  9. If an immigrant gets released and decides to post a house as collateral, they must provide Nexus with a copy of the deed, the mortgage and an appraisal. During the period the proceedings last, the house “belongs” to Nexus. If anything happens and the immigrant who was bonded out by Nexus fails to show up to court, Nexus will not enforce a lien on the house for the bond amount alone, as most bond companies would. Instead Nexus takes the whole house, as explained by one of its agents. When I tried to clarify this point, and reminded her that I was inquiring about a $15,000 bond, I was told this was correct, they take the whole house as compensation for the “risk” they were undertaking and because they have to pay the full amount of the bond to the bond company.

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So what can we do?

Under Virginia law, the Commonwealth Attorney General did not think that any of what I just described constituted fraud. However under California law, “actual fraud” consists of “the suggestion, as a fact, of that which is not true, by one who does not believe it to be true [and] a promise made without any intention of performing it” and “undue influence” is described as “suggestion, as a fact, of that which is not true, by one who does not believe it to be true,” (§§ 1172, 1175). So take for instance, telling a desperate detainee or his family that unless they contract with Nexus their loved one will stay in detention—this is not true and Nexus knows that; or telling them that not complying with Nexus will cause the judge to revoke the bond.

But some will say, “the client should’ve just read the contract”. The contract is in English, but a lot of people who contract with Nexus are recently arrived immigrants who do not speak English. Under California Law, as amended in 2014, Cal. Civ. Code §1812.623(a) seems to apply to the kind of GPS tracking devices used by Nexus, or at least one can argue it should. If that is so, then Nexus, when doing business in California, must provide a written agreement “in the same language as principally used in any oral sales presentation or negotiations leading to the execution of the agreement.” The languages include, because of the demographics in California, Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Korean. The copies of Nexus contracts I was able to obtain include one single page in Spanish, out of thirty-three pages (Page 6). The quality of translation is terrible to say the least; it looks as if someone used Google translate to try to translate the English version. I am a fluent Spanish speaker and I could not decipher half of what was written in the “Spanish” version. Under California law, a consumer is entitled to remedies, including actual damages; consumer’s reasonable attorney’s fees and court costs; and exemplary damages, in the amount the court deems proper. Cal. Civ. Code §1812.636(a)

If Nexus isn’t committing fraud, they are definitely walking a very thin line. I would be surprised if they could sustain these practices, although the reality is that Nexus found the perfect community to defraud. A lot of immigrants are afraid to come forward, and even when they do, no one seems to do anything, at least not in Virginia.

 

 

 

The Impact of Broad Discretion in Setting Immigration Bond

In my last post, I talked about the lack of regulations in setting immigration bond and the great disparity in the amount of bond granted. A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to witness a few immigration bond hearings in San Francisco. Each hearing was different, and each had a different result.

a-immigrantcourtThe Immigration Judge granted bond in only one case, setting it at $10,000, and ordered only one release without bond. Both of these individuals had legal representation. The first one had been arrested for disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor. The second one was a Franco case, meaning that the individual was someone with a mental disability. In 2013, Franco-Gonzalez v. Holder resulted in an injunction requiring the government to appoint counsel and provide bond hearings for seriously mentally ill noncitizens detained in Arizona, California and Washington. This explains why, even though an interpreter was present, the judge did not question the man in a red jumpsuit sitting in court quietly and absent-mindedly. All questions and instructions were directed at his “qualified representative”, an attorney from a local non-profit organization who successfully argued that her client did not represent a danger to the community and that he would not be able to pay even the minimum amount of bond ($1,500).

I also witnessed several Rodriguez bond hearings, also known as custody determination hearings, for non-citizens who had been detained for six months or longer. For the first two Rodriguez bond cases, the attorneys simply asked for a continuance. To my surprise, the judge warned the two attorneys that in his experience, unless a stay (a temporary postponement of an order of removal) had been granted it would not be surprising if the non-citizens were removed before the next hearing. This is because in immigration court an appeal does not carry an automatic stay, nor does a Rodriguez bond hearing.

The other three individuals seeking Rodriguez bond were unrepresented and all appeared via video teleconferencing (VTC). The first one asked for more time to find an attorney. The next was a 26-year-old immigrant from Honduras who had been previously deported. He spoke English fluently and asked the judge to grant his release so he could go back to work as a cook and provide for his 3-year-old son and his family. The judge asked if he owned any property or had any savings; the young man replied that he only had $3,000. The judge denied bond, citing a “serious” flight risk because did not have family ties in the U.S. To be honest, I thought that if the judge was to deny bond it would be because in an effort to be honest, as this young man put it, he also said that he had been detained for a DUI previously and that ICE believed him to have had gang affiliation when he was a minor, which he vehemently denied. It seems that the judge did not think he was a danger, but still denied the bond despite the fact that this man’s whole family lives in the U.S., including his Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) mother, who had already filed a petition seeking permanent residence status for him as well.

The last hearing I sat through was for a homeless veteran, a legal permanent resident and former Marine. After being asked if he needed more time to find an attorney he told the judge he had written to several non-profits seeking legal representation but had not heard back from any of them. He told the judge he wanted to represent himself because he was having a “really hard time” being detained and wanted a chance to explain how he believed he is a citizen. He had taken a citizenship class and filed paperwork to become a citizen in 1991, while he was still on active duty. When the judge asked if he had any proof he replied that he had been homeless for the past six years and did not keep any documents. He also said he suffers from serious Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and was having a very difficult time coping with being detained. The judge denied bond.

After the hearings concluded I asked the judge about how lack of representation affects a case, and he insisted that it does not affect the ultimate outcome of bond hearings. But although I only sat through a handful of hearings, only two individuals were ordered released – one on bond and other with certain conditions – and both were represented. As I wrote in my last post, judges do not have to consider ability to pay, so I had to ask the judge about his reason for asking about the individual’s assets in one of the cases; he said that he did this in order to set bond at an amount that represents more than just a fraction of the individual’s assets and thus have stronger assurance that the individual will continue to appear in court.

Lastly, I asked about the effects of the Rodriguez ruling and whether more bonds were being granted now that more individuals were eligible for these hearings. The judge said that in his experience 99.9% of Rodriguez bonds were denied, as judges still had to decide whether the individual is a danger to the community or a flight risk. This is consistent with what I saw; not a single Rodriguez bond was granted that morning. However, this should not be interpreted as non-citizens being denied because they are an actual danger to the community.

Bond and Refugees:

If there is one group that has felt the harsh consequences of the lack of safeguards in immigration bond proceedings, including immigration bond, it is refugees, especially Central American mothers and children fleeing unimaginable violence in their home countries. After making a grueling journey though several countries, risking being raped, assaulted, and even killed, when they finally get to the border seeking asylum they are quickly detained and sent to “family” detention centers, such as Karnes, in South Texas. Karnes is run by the GEO Group, a private correctional detention company and was recently granted a temporary “residential child care license”, a move to circumvent an order from the Federal District Court for the Central District of California, which last August gave the Obama administration two months to release refugee children held in these unlicensed facilities. It is too soon to know the actual effect, but at the very least this means that the Obama administration can now continue to detain women and children indefinitely. Before last year’s Court order to release children from these detention facilities was issued, families had many complaints, including sexual abuse of women, lack of proper medical care for children, and bonds being set as high as $20,000.

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An immigration judge has set Samey’s bond at $25,000. RAICES, a non-profit in San Antonio, TX has created the “Free Samey Fund” to raise money to free Same once and for all.

Samey, a former interpreter for the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, who fled to seek asylum in the U.S. after being threatened by the Taliban has been detained for nearly a year. During Samey’s hearing before the judge, retired Lieutenant Colonel Mike Williams testified on his behalf and urged that Samey be granted asylum. Everyone thought that this was a “fairly open-and shut-case”; instead, the judge denied asylum and ordered Samey’s deportation. Samey did not have legal counsel. However, Samey was recently given a $25,000 bond, something he simply cannot afford. This high bond was set despite Samey not having a criminal record or presenting any danger to the community; he actually has family members who have been granted asylum on the same grounds, and even presented testimony by a former lieutenant colonel.

The Economic and Social Impact of Detention:

When a judge does grant bond, the person who pays the bond needs to have legal status, and in some cases has to be a family member. When immigrants cannot afford bond, it could lead to prolonged separation from their family and loss of social and economic support. The economic impact of detention could be measured in two ways – the cost incurred by the government when detaining immigrants for prolonged periods of time and the cost to the immigrants in the form of wages loss.

A survey of 562 immigrants detained in Southern California for six months or longer found that “approximately 90 percent were employed in the six months prior to detention.” The survey then calculated the collective lost wages due to detention to be nearly $11.9 million (or $43,357 per day). On the other hand, the government spent nearly $24.8 million dollars to detain these immigrants for an average of 274 days, with a daily cost of $161 dollars per detainee per day.

Sixty nine percent of the 562 surveyed immigrants had a U.S. Citizen or Legal Permanent resident spouse or child. About 94% were a source of financial or emotional support for their families, and 64% of these immigrants’ families had difficulty paying rent, mortgage or utility bills. In addition, 42% of families were unable to pay for necessary medical care and 37% could not pay for food. The lack of data makes it difficult to determine how many immigrants sitting in detention for prolonged periods of time are there simply because they cannot afford to post bond.

When bond is set at an amount a detainee and their family cannot afford, many are forced to contract with bond companies. Most companies require collateral, in the form of property or other assets, and they charge a non-refundable premium each year until the case is closed. This means non-citizens end up paying more than the actual bond amount and the collateral is not released until the end of the proceedings, which can take several years.

There is a new type of business that has emerged to service those who do not have property to use as collateral. The name of this company is “Libre” by Nexus. In my next post I will explain how “Libre” works and why customers are complaining.

 

 

 

Immigration Bond: Making Freedom an Expensive Commodity for Some Immigrants

 

Immigration bond, in theory, serves the same purpose as “bail” in that it helps procure the release of a detainee. It is essentially a contract between ICE and a person (or the bond company posting the bond) to ensure the release of an individual. The release is made in exchange for security given that that individual will appear in court or any other proceeding at a later date. But unlike bail, there are no constitutional safeguards against excessive bond.

Before I explain how immigration bond is set and what are some of the major issues surrounding this process, it’s important that I clarify that throughout this post I will use the words “immigrant” and “non-citizen” interchangeably. Non-citizens include those who are undocumented as well as those who are green card holders or who have other types of protected immigration status. It’s important to understand that undocumented immigrants are not the only ones who can be detained and deported. About 10% of those who are deported each year are green card holders; 68% are removed after committing minor, nonviolent crimes.

The number of Criminal “Aliens”:

For years, the Obama administration has claimed that ICE is focusing its efforts on convicted criminals, and is going after “gang bangers, people who are hurting the community, not after students, not after folks who are here just because they’re trying to figure out how to feed their families.” Perhaps in response to mounting criticism due to the high number of deportations, the Department of Homeland security (DHS) issued new guidelines in 2014, making the “removal of aliens who pose a danger to national security or a risk to public safety ICE’s highest immigration enforcement priority.”

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Kimberly Pineda-Chavez was 17 when she fled Honduras to escape gangs that threatened to make her and her sister their “sex slaves”. The sisters were apprehended at the border and Kimberly was ordered deported 3 months later. She was detained by ICE and after more than 25,000 petition signatures Kimberly was granted bond and released.

But the numbers simply do not add up. First, the 2014 priority list includes “criminals” convicted of misdemeanors, as well as newly arrived immigrants, regardless of whether they present any security risks. Between 2010 and 2013, ICE removed 508,000 immigrants; only 3% had been convicted of violent or serious crimes (PDF page 10). ICE data released to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) shows that during April 2015 “only about one third (32%) of individuals on whom immigration detainers were placed had been convicted of a crime”; only 19% had a felony conviction, and two thirds had no criminal convictions. A “detainer” or “immigration hold” is the primary tool used by DHS to apprehend immigrants by asking local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to notify ICE of a pending release.

In California, 81% of detainers issued were for individuals with no criminal conviction. More recent data also shows that through February 2016, only 2% of those individuals in deportation proceedings nationwide were convicted of aggravated felonies, almost 7% had “other criminal charges”, and the rest had only immigration charges. What this data shows is that ICE has not limited its detention efforts to persons with serious convictions. Placing detainers on people with serious criminal convictions has, if anything, become less common.

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Lundy Khoy, a green-card holder born in a Thai refugee camp after her parents fled Cambodia, was a student at George Mason University when she was caught by the police with a handful of ecstasy tabs. She served 3 months in jail and received 4 years of probation. In 2004, ICE showed up to one of her scheduled probation check-ins, detained her and imprisoned her for another 9 months.

As part of an effort to enhance its enforcement mechanisms, DHS has criminalized certain immigration violations, especially re-entry to the U.S. It is thus not surprising that non-citizens are overrepresented in federal prison populations. In 1990, there were only 1,728 inmates convicted of immigration violations (Table 19, page 12). But that number increased from 36,564 in 1992, to 75,867 in 2012.

In 2010, about 55,000 of so-called criminal aliens were incarcerated in federal prisons, and about 296,000 were in state prisons and local jails in 2009 (Figure 1, page 7). The majority, about 60%, were Mexican (Figure 2, page 9; Figure 6, page 15). About half of those incarcerated were charged with immigration (18%), drug (17%), or traffic violations (14%), and only a handful was charged with violent crimes (Table 2, page 21). More recent numbers show that in January 2016, about 16,809 inmates were in federal jails for immigration-related offenses, the third highest type of offense prosecuted during that period.

Who is Eligible For Bond?

Not everyone who is detained is deported, but this does not mean everyone else gets released. A non-citizen in removal proceedings has no constitutional right to be released on bond, and courts have consistently recognized that the government has extremely broad discretion in deciding whether or not to release a non-citizen on bond.

Moreover, some immigrants are subject to mandatory detention. In 1996, Congress significantly expanded the categories of individuals who are subject to mandatory detention to include immigrants convicted of essentially any crime, not only aggravated felonies and crimes of moral turpitude (PDF page 8). Because of the topic of this post, I will focus on those who are eligible for bond.

When a non-citizen is detained, ICE will make an independent determination of whether the person is eligible for bond. ICE bond can be granted at any point in the proceedings. If ICE does not set bond or sets a high bond, the detainee may request a bond hearing, also known as a custody determination hearing. The Immigration Judge will decide whether to set bond in exchange for the release, lower or raise the ICE bond, deny bond altogether, or allow for a release under other terms or conditions.

Unlike the criminal justice system, where a defendant can post bail before arraignment or at arraignment, but within 48 hours of arrest, an otherwise eligible detainee does not have the right to a bond hearing within a similar time frame. TRAC data shows that between November and December 2012, 66,306 people were “booked-out” of detention; over 4,000 were released under an order of recognizance, and 6,730 were bonded out. The average detention for those who were bonded out was 42 days; only 19% were released within 3 days, while 3% were released after 180 or more days.

Several courts have challenged the prolonged detention of immigrants without the right to a bond hearing. The Ninth and Second Circuits recently ruled that a bond hearing must automatically be held within six months of initial detention (Rodriguez; Lora). This makes those immigrants subject to mandatory detention eligible for a bond hearing, but this does not mean they are entitled to bond or that they can be released. However, the burden is on the government to show that continued detention is justified, which represents, in theory at least, a much-needed procedural safeguard.

For those immigrants whose cases are outside of these two circuits, prolonged mandatory detention is still an issue. But the Supreme Court could soon hear a case on this issue (Jennings v. Rodriguez).

How do judges decide the bond amount?

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Immigration Judges are not Article II judges. They are “attorneys whom the Attorney General appoints as administrative judges”, and who exercise their own independent judgement and discretion in deciding a case.

During a bond hearing, the Immigration Judge will consider two things: 1)  whether the detainee is a danger to society and 2) whether he is a flight risk. The first can be shown through the absence of crimes, especially violent crimes. The second can be shown through evidence of family ties, especially if there are U.S. citizen children or a spouse, employment history, or letters of relatives or friends regarding the good moral character of the individual.

However, a judge “has broad discretion in deciding the factors that he or she may consider [and] may choose to give greater weight to one factor over others” (In Re Guerra, page 40). For instance, some judges will heavily consider and even require that the individual have potential relief from removal, such as having an immediate relative who can petition for them. But ability to pay is not one of the factors a judge considers (PDF pages 6-7).

If the judge denies bond, non-citizens can request a subsequent bond hearing if they can show that their circumstances have materially changed. A written motion explaining what has changed, along with proof, must be submitted (PDF page 3). Proof can consist of showing that detention has been prolonged, that the individual has been found non-removable because he now qualifies for relief or because criminal charges have been dismissed, or new case law has developed and it works in favor of the non-citizen.

Because Judges have broad discretion, it is not unheard of that bond is sometimes set at exorbitant amounts. By law the minimum amount bond can be set is $1,500, but there is no cap. While there is no comprehensive data on the average bond amount, a recent study of detainees in the Central District of California suggests that the average amounts range from $10,667 to $80,500 (PDF page 3). This same study found that detainees with felonies have an average bond amount of $47,133 while those without felonies have an average bond amount of $20,040. Another survey of 562 immigrants who had been detained in Southern California for six months or longer found that the median bond amount for these detainees was $15,000, “67% higher than the median bond amount of $9,000 for felony offenders in state criminal courts nationwide between 1990 and 2004” (PDF page 4).

Judges are supposed to make a bond determination based on all the information available at the time of the hearing. But if all the Judge has in front of him is information about a past criminal conviction, the likelihood of bond or low bond is greatly diminished. However, even if the Judges have more than just the criminal history, the study on central California detainees suggest that judges give more weight to criminal history, especially felony convictions, over other relevant factors (See PDF page 28).

The reality is that the immigration bond process can be complicated and non-citizen detainees many times are not represented and do not know that they only have one chance at a bond hearing. A national study of access to counsel in immigration court, found that of the 1.2 million removal cases decided between 2007 and 2012, only 37% had legal representation (PDF pages 11; 22). Those with legal representation were seven times more likely than pro se litigants to have a custody hearing and be released. While it did not specify under what conditions these non-citizens were released, it did find that those with legal representation showed up to court 93% of the time, compared to only 32% of pro se litigants (PDF page 73).

So, if Judges are supposed to be concerned not only with whether non-citizens are a danger to society, but with whether there is a risk that they will not return to Court, then providing legal representation in immigration matters, including custody determination hearings, may help ease that concern. And if the majority of non-citizens have no criminal convictions or have been convicted of non-violent crimes or of immigration violations alone (civil violation), then having legal representation may provide them with a more fair opportunity to make a case as to why they should be given a more affordable bond or be released under other conditions.

In my next post I will examine the practices of some bond companies that have greatly profited by the lack of uniformity and safeguards both inside and outside of immigration court. I will also examine the social and economic impact that high bond amounts have on immigrants and their families.

 

Fianza de Inmigración: Como la Libertad se ha Convertido en un Lujo Costoso para Algunos Inmigrantes

La fianza de inmigración, en teoría, sirve el mismo propósito que la fianza en el sistema criminal ya que ambas ayudan a procurar la libertad de un detenido. Es esencialmente un contrato entre inmigración y una persona (o compañía que pagará la fianza) para asegurar la libertad de un individuo. El detenido es puesto en libertad a cambio de la promesa que él regresará a corte o cualquier otro procedimiento judicial en el futuro. Pero a diferencia de la fianza penal, no hay garantías constitucionales contra una fianza de inmigración excesiva.

Antes de comenzar a explicar cómo se fija la fianza de inmigración y cuales son algunos de los problemas más graves con este proceso, es importante clarificar que durante este post yo usaré las palabras “inmigrante” y “no ciudadanos” de manera intercambiable. No-ciudadanos incluyen aquellos quienes son indocumentados, son residentes permanentes, y los que tienen otro tipo de protección migratoria. Es importante entender que los inmigrantes indocumentados no son los únicos que son detenidos y deportados. Un 10% de los deportados cada año son residentes permanentes; 60% son removidos después de haber cometido crímenes menores, no violentos.

El número de Extranjeros Criminales:

La administración del Presidente Obama ha mantenido por años que las autoridades de inmigración (ICE) se están enfocando en remover criminales sentenciados, y están hiendo tras “pandilleros, personas que afectan a la comunidad, no tras estudiantes, no tras aquellos que están aquí intentando mantener y sacar adelante a sus familias.” Tal vez en respuesta a criticas debido al gran numero de deportaciones, el Departamento de Seguridad Interna (DHS por sus sigla en Inglés) emitió nuevos reglamentos en 2014, haciendo la “deportación de extranjeros que posan un peligro para la seguridad nacional o riesgo a la seguridad pública la mayor prioridad para ICE.”

Pero los números no coinciden con los reglamentos de 2014. Primero, las prioridades de 2014 incluyen “criminales” que han sido condenados por crímenes menores, así como inmigrantes recién llegados, sin importar si presentan algún riesgo a la seguridad. Entre 2010 y 2013, ICE removió 508,000 inmigrantes de los cual solo 3% tenían antecedentes de delitos violentos o delitos serios. Datos proveídos al Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) muestran que durante Abril de 2015 “solo alrededor de un tercio (32%) de individuos a quienes se les dio orden de detención habían sido condenados con algún crimen”; solo el 19% tenían una sentencia por un crimen serio, y dos tercios no tenían antecedentes penales. Una “orden de detención”, también conocido como “ICE hold”, es la herramienta principal utilizada por DHS para detener a inmigrantes que están cumpliendo sentencia. ICE pide a agencias locales, estatales, o federales que le notifiquen sobre alguna liberación pendiente de personas no ciudadanas.

En California, 81% de las órdenes de detención emitidas fueron contra personas sin ningún antecedente penal. Datos más recientes muestran que durante Febrero de 2016, solo 2% de personas en proceso de deportación a nivel nacional tenían sentencias por crímenes serios con agravantes, casi el 7% tenían otros cargos criminales, y el resto solo tenían cargos por violar alguna ley de inmigración. Esto muestra que ICE no ha enfocado sus esfuerzos en detener a personas con cargos delictivos. Es más, órdenes de detención contra personas con sentencias por crímenes serios se han vuelto menos frecuente.

Como parte de los esfuerzos para mejorar la ejecución de sus reglas, DHS ha criminalizado ciertas violaciones migratorias, especialmente el reingreso a Estados Unidos después de una deportación previa. Es por eso que no es una sorpresa que personas sin ciudadanía estén sobrerrepresentados en las prisiones federales. En 1990, solo había 1,728 reclusos condenados por violaciones de inmigración. Pero este número incrementó de 36,564 en 1992 a 75,867 en 2012.

En 2010, al rededor de 55,000 supuestos extranjeros criminales fueron encarcelados en prisiones federales; y alrededor de 296,000 en prisiones estatales y cárceles locales en 2009. La mayoría de estos reclusos, alrededor de 60%, eran mexicanos. Cerca de la mitad de los encarcelados fueron acusados de violaciones migratorias (18%), relacionadas con drogas (17%), o por violaciones de tránsito (14%), y solo un pequeño número fueron acusados de crímenes violentos. Datos mas recientes muestran que en Enero de 2016, cerca de 16,809 reclusos se encontraban en cárceles federales por ofensas relacionadas con inmigración, el tercer tipo de ofensas mas frecuentemente juzgadas durante ese periodo.

¿Quienes son Elegibles para Fianza Migratoria?

No todos los que son detenidos son deportados, pero eso no quiere decir que todos los demás son puestos en libertad. Una persona en proceso de deportación no tiene derecho constitucional a ser puesto en libertad después de pagar una fianza. Las Cortes han reconocido de manera consistente que el gobierno tiene amplia discreción en decidir si pone a alguien en libertad bajo fianza o no.

Además, algunos inmigrantes están sujetos a una detención obligatoria. En 1996, el Congreso expandió de manera considerable las categorías de individuos que están sujetos a detención obligatoria e incluyó a inmigrantes acusados de virtualmente cualquier crimen, no solo crímenes serios con agravantes o crímenes de vileza moral. Debido al tema de este blog, me enfocaré en aquellos individuos que sí son elegibles para recibir fianza.

Cuando una persona no ciudadana es detenida, ICE puede hacer una determinación independiente sobre la elegibilidad de esta persona para fianza. La fianza de ICE puede ser concedida en cualquier momento durante el proceso. Si ICE decide no otorgar una fianza u otorga una fianza muy alta, el detenido puede pedir una audiencia de fianza, también conocida como una determinación de custodia. El Juez de Inmigración puede decidir si otorgar fianza, reducir o incrementar la fianza, negar fianza, u ordenar la liberación del detenido bajo otros términos o condiciones.

A diferencia del sistema penal, donde el acusado puede pagar una fianza antes o durante la audiencia donde se le leerán los cargos formales, pero dentro de un periodo de 48 horas después del arresto, un detenido en custodia de inmigración no tiene derecho a una audiencia de fianza durante un periodo similar. Datos de TRAC muestran que entre noviembre y diciembre de 2012, un total de 66,306 personas fueron procesadas fuera de detención. De ellas, más de 4,000 fueron puestos en libertad bajo promesa que el detenido regresaría a corte más adelante, y otros 6,730 fueron puestos en libertad después de pagar una fianza. El número promedio de días en que pagaron fianza es de 42 días; solo 19% fueron puestos en libertad después de 3 días de detención, mientras que 3% fueron puestos en libertad después de 180 días o mas.

Recientemente, algunas Cortes han cuestionado la detención prolongada sin derecho a una audiencia de fianza de ciertos inmigrantes. Las Cortes de Apelación del Noveno y el Segundo Circuito han decidido que una audiencia de fianza debe ser llevada a cabo automáticamente después de seis meses de la detención inicial. (Rodríguez; Lora). Esto significa que inmigrantes sujetos a detención obligatoria son elegibles a una audiencia de fianza, pero no son elegibles a recibir fianza o ser puestos en libertad. Sin embargo, el peso de probar por qué la detención prolongada es justificada cae sobre el gobierno. Esto representa, teóricamente, una protección muy valiosa para no ciudadanos en detención federal.

Para aquellos inmigrantes cuyos casos no se encuentran sujetos a la jurisdicción del Noveno y Segundo Circuito, la detención obligatoria prolongada sigue siendo un problema. Pero la Suprema Corte de Justicia podría pronto escuchar y decidir un caso sobre este problema. (Jennings v. Rodriguez).

 ¿Como los jueces deciden sobre la cantidad de fianza que se debe otorgar?

 Durante una audiencia, el Juez de Inmigración debe considerar dos cosas: 1) si existe riesgo que el detenido no se presente a la siguiente audiencia, y 2) si el detenido representa un peligro a la sociedad. El detenido puede probar que no hay riesgo de que no se presente a corte mostrando evidencia de lazos familiares, especialmente si tiene hijos o esposa(o) que son ciudadanos Americanos, si tiene un historial de trabajo, o cartas de familiares o amigos que hablen sobre su buen carácter moral.

Sin embargo, un juez “tiene amplia discreción para decidir cuales factores considerar [y] puede elegir darle más valor a un factor sobre otros.” (In Re Guerra). Por ejemplo, algunos jueces le darán gran consideración, y hasta pueden requerir que el detenido tenga algún remedio para no ser removido, si existe un familiar que sea ciudadano y pueda entablar una petición a favor del individuo. Pero la posibilidad de pagar fianza, o la situación económica del individuo, no son factores que el juez considera.

Si el juez niega la fianza, el detenido puede pedir una audiencia posteriormente para mostrar que sus circunstancias han cambiado materialmente. Una moción por escrito explicando que ha cambiado, al igual que pruebas, deben ser entregadas a la Corte. Estas pruebas pueden consistir en mostrar que la detención se ha prolongado, que el detenido no debe ser deportado porque califica para algún beneficio migratorio, que los cargos criminales han sido descartados, o algún nuevo caso legal ha sido decidido que favorece al detenido.

Debido a que los jueces tienen amplia discreción, no es inusual escuchar que la fianza otorgada sea por una cantidad exorbitante. Por ley, la cantidad mínima que se puede requerir en fianza es de $1,500, pero no hay cantidad máxima. No hay datos completos sobre la cantidad promedio de una fianza, pero un reciente estudio de detenidos en el Distrito Centrale de California sugiere que la cantidad promedio es entre $10,667 a $80,500. Este mismo estudio encontró que detenidos con delitos mayores son otorgados fianzas de un promedio de $47,133, mientras que aquellos que no tienen delitos mayores reciben fianza en promedio de $20,040. Otra encuesta de 562 inmigrantes que fueron detenidos en el Sur de California por seis meses o mas encontró que la cantidad mediana de fianza fue de $15,000, “67% mas alta que la cantidad mediana de fianza ($9,000) por personas con delitos mayores en el sistema judicial estatal a nivel nacional entre 1990 al 2004”.

Se supone que los jueces deben hacer una determinación sobre la fianza de inmigración basada en toda la información disponible durante la audiencia. Pero si todo lo que el juez tiene frente a él es información sobre condenas penales o acusación de crimines, la probabilidad que una fianza sea otorgada o que la fianza sea razonable, es grandemente disminuida. Sin embargo, aun cuando los jueces tienen información adicional, el estudio sobre detenidos en el centro de California sugiere que los jueces le dan más importancia al historial delictivo, especialmente a cargos por delitos mayores, sobre otros factores relevantes.

La realidad es que el proceso de fianza puede ser complicado y los inmigrantes muchas veces no están representados por un abogado y no saben que solo tienen una oportunidad para pedir fianza. Un estudio nacional sobre el acceso a representación legal en corte de inmigración, encontró que de los 1.2 millones de casos de deportación decididos entre el 2007 y 2012, solo 37% tenían representación legal. Aquellos con representación legal se les otorgo una audiencia para determinar su custodia y fueron puestos en libertad siete veces mas que los que compadecieron ante un juez por si mismos.

Por lo tanto, si se supone que los jueces deben preocuparse no solo sobre si el inmigrante es un peligro para la sociedad, pero también sobre si existe algún riesgo que no regrese a corte, entonces proveerles representación legal en procesos de inmigración, incluyendo durante audiencias de fianza, tal vez puede aliviar esta preocupación.

Y si la mayoría de los inmigrantes no tienen antecedentes penales o tienen antecedentes por delitos menores o por violaciones de leyes migratorias (violaciones civiles y no criminales) entonces recibir representación legal puede proveerles una oportunidad más justa para presentar pruebas sobre por qué se les debe otorgar una fianza más razonable o ser puestos en libertad bajo otras condiciones.

En mi siguiente post examinaré las prácticas de algunas empresas de fianzas de inmigración que lucran de gran manera debido a la falta de uniformidad y protecciones dentro y fuera de las cortes de inmigración. También examinare el impacto social y económico que las fianzas exorbitantes tienen en los inmigrantes y sus familias.

 

 

Immigration Detention: Its Financial and Human Cost

* Version en Español abajo. 

In order to understand how immigration bond works, there are four fundamental things about immigration and detention that we need to understand – that detention and deportation are civil matters; that the ethnic makeup of immigrants in the U.S. has changed; that the structure of immigration enforcement and immigration laws have also changed; and finally, that the cost of immigration detention is not measured only in dollars.

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An immigration judge in charge of training other judges claims that 3-year olds can represent themselves in immigration court. (Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

Despite their potentially devastating consequences, immigration detention and deportation are civil matters. Unlike criminal defendants, immigrants facing deportation do not have the right to appointed counsel. As a consequence, they must navigate a very intricate immigration system on their own, unless they have the means to procure a lawyer. Although the Supreme Court has recognized that deportation is a particularly severe “penalty” and is “intimately related to the criminal process”, immigration consequences remain civil in nature. This characterization has its roots in the now infamous Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and cases that sought to challenge it. This Act halted all Chinese immigration and prohibited Chinese from becoming citizens during an era of heightened anti-Asian sentiment.

Outright race-based restrictions on immigration were not uncommon before 1965, when Congress finally eliminated the national-origins quota – a policy that allowed the selection of immigrants based on their national origin. These quotas had given preference to immigrants from Northwestern European countries, and had loosely restricted migration from Southern and Eastern European countries. Chinese immigrants, however, were nearly completely banned until 1943, when still only a handful were allow into the U.S. During this time, immigrants hoping to make their way to the U.S. came through Ellis Island, the best-known immigration inspection station in the U.S. For more than 12 million immigrants, Ellis Island was the gateway to a new beginning, until it finally closed in 1954.

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The Soto Family fights for the release of a father and husband. (Photo: Courtesy of Steve Pavey and NIYA)

Currently, there are 11.3 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., which makes up roughly 3.5% of the nation’s total population. This is a decrease from 12.2 million in 2007. Over the last few decades there have been changes in the ethnic makeup of these immigrants. In the 1960’s, the top sending countries were Italy and Germany; beginning in the 1970’s the number of Mexican immigrants began a steady increase. However, since 2009, the net migration of Mexican immigrants has fallen below zero. In fact, in 2013 China replaced Mexico as the top sending country. This decline is a result of several factors – the recession, a growing anti-immigrant sentiment and tougher immigration laws. With the growth of the undocumented population stabilizing, this means that a significant number of undocumented immigrants who remain in the U.S. are long-time residents, and have been here for a median time of nearly 13 years.

To other major changes, which have greatly impacted undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., are the restructuring of the agencies in charge of immigration, and certain changes in immigration law. For decades, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) oversaw immigration enforcement and immigration services. In 2003 the INS was abolished and its functions were placed under three agencies – the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Custom and Border Protection (CBP). These agencies were all within the newly created Department of Homeland Security, an umbrella entity established in response to the 9/11 attacks.

A little over a decade before the creation of DHS, in 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA), This Act greatly expanded mandatory detention for certain immigrants. That same year, the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) was passed. Together, they dramatically increased the number of immigrants subject to mandatory detention without bond. In a span of two years alone, from 1996 to 1998, this number increased from 8,500 to nearly 16,000.

Naturally, the number of detention facilities has also increased. Congress requires that DHS maintain not less than 34,000 detention beds on a daily basis, spread across a network of about 250 facilities nationwide. No other federal agency is required to maintain a specific number of detained individuals without first determining whether this makes sense from a law-enforcement perspective. This has resulted in an average daily population of over 30,000 since 2007.

The problem with this mandatory bed quota is that DHS owns only 11% of the beds. About 24% are located in facilities owned by state and local governments which are exclusively reserved for immigrants, 62% of all immigration detention beds are operated by for-profit corporations, and the rest are in facilities where people awaiting trial or people serving criminal sentences are also detained. Two private prison companies – the Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO group – dominate the immigration detention industry. Together they operate 72% of the beds, and own and manage 8 of the 10 largest immigration detention centers in the country, including the Adelanto Detention Facility in Southern California, and the Karnes County Correctional Center in Texas, which houses Central American women and children.

These companies have created a very profitable business model. In the late 1990’s, CCA was on the verge of bankruptcy. But in 2000, it received one of the largest contracts ever awarded by the federal government to a private prison company. This contract gave CCA exclusive authority to run the Otay Detention Facility in San Diego, which houses only immigration detainees. Some of the contracts between DHS and these private prison companies include a guaranteed-minimum number of beds and a tiered pricing structure, which gives ICE a discount rate for each person detained in excess of the stipulated minimum. This has lowered the costs to detain more people, sometimes for longer periods of time.

The increase in profits and mandatory number of beds has coincided with an increase in lobbying expenditures by some of these private companies. From 1999 to 2009, the private prison industry spent $20,432,000 in lobbying efforts – CCA spent $18,002,000, and GEO $2,065,000. However, this increase in private prison lobbying is not limited to immigration detention; in 2010 CCA sent a letter to 48 governors offering to buy and operate their public prisons. The letter offered a 20-year contract if certain requirements were met, including a minimum 90% occupancy rate. This type of contract has worried criminal justice advocates, who fear that they will encourage the imposition of harsher sentences in order to meet these non-judicially mandated quotas.

The last key point to understand about immigration detention is the cost. The average cost of detaining an immigrant is approximately $164 per person/ per day. Since 1986, when the last major legalization program occurred, the federal government has spent over $241 billion on immigration enforcement. In 2014 alone, DHS requested $2 billion in funding for immigration detention, approximately 40% of ICE’s $5.3 billion budget that year. That is about $5.5 million per day.

While there is no comprehensive data about how many immigrants are able to reunite with their families because they are released on their own recognizance or because they are able to post bond, we know that an estimated 35,613 immigrants in deportation proceedings have so far been allowed to stay in the U.S. in FY 2016 (October 1, 20015 to September 20, 2016). The reasons vary. It could be because the judge found that the charges against them could not be sustained, they had other relief from removal, such as family who could petition for them, or the government agreed to drop the charges. However, we also know that 70% are subject to mandatory detention, and in FY 2013 alone, the Obama administration deported 438,421 immigrants.

But the cost of mandatory detention and deportation is not limited to dollars. Many of these immigrant detainees have families; they have children and grandchildren. They have established roots in the U.S., sometimes over a period of decades. That’s why some advocates have began pushing for alternatives to detention, including release on recognizance, bond, or monitoring programs. These alternatives are not only much cheaper, but will allow immigrants to remain close to their families while they await a resolution on their individual cases.

In a subsequent post, I will talk about who gets released from immigration detention, the process and considerations to determine immigration bond, and the bonding industry that has sprung up to service it.

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Deteniendo a Inmigrantes: El Costo Financiero y Humano

Para entender como la fianza de inmigración funciona, hay cuatro cosas fundamentales sobre inmigración y la detención migratoria que debemos entender – que la detención migratoria y la deportación son asuntos civiles; que la composición étnica de los inmigrantes en Estados Unidos ha cambiado; que la estructura de las agencias migratorias y las leyes migratorias también han cambiado; y finalmente, que el costo de la detención migratoria no se mide solo en dólares.

A pesar de las posibles devastadores consecuencias, la detención migratoria y la deportación son asuntos civiles. A diferencia de los demandados en casos criminales, los inmigrantes que enfrentan un proceso de deportación no tienen derecho a tener un abogado designado por una corte. Ellos solos tienen que navegar un sistema migratorio bástate complicado, a menos que tengan los recursos para contratar un abogado particular. Esto ocurre a pesar de que la Suprema Corte de Justicia ha reconocido que la deportación es un “castigo” particularmente severo y esta “íntimamente relacionado al proceso criminal”, las consecuencias migratorias continúan siendo civiles. Esta caracterización tiene sus raíces en el ahora infame Acto de Exclusión China de 1882 (Chinese Exclusion Act) y las demandas que se entablaron para desafiar este Acto. Esta ley le puso un alto a la inmigración de provenientes de China y prohibió que los inmigrantes Chinos y sus descendientes pudieran hacerse ciudadanos durante una era de gran sentimiento anti-inmigrante contra las personas de descendencia Asiática.

Restricciones abiertamente basadas en la raza de ciertos inmigrantes eran bastante comunes antes de 1965, cuando el Congreso finalmente eliminó las cuotas basadas en nacionalidad – una política que permitía la selección de inmigrantes basado en su origen étnico. Estas cuotas daban preferencia a inmigrantes de países del Noroeste de Europa, y de manera más informal restringían la inmigración de países del Sur y Este de Europa. Los inmigrantes Chinos, por otra parte, fueron completamente excluidos hasta 1943, cuando solo un limitado numero fueron admitidos a Estados Unidos. Durante este tiempo, los inmigrantes que tenían esperanza de llegar a Estados Unidos, entraron por la Isla Ellis, el centro de inspección migratorio más transitado del país. Para mas de 12 millones de inmigrantes, la Isla Ellis representaba la puerta hacia un nuevo comienzo, hasta que finalmente cerró sus puertas en 1954.

Actualmente hay 11.3 millones de inmigrantes indocumentados viviendo en Estados Unidos, lo cual constituye aproximadamente 3.5% de la población total del país. Este numero representa una reducción de los 12.2 millones en el 2007. Durante las últimas cuantas décadas, han habido varios cambios en la composición étnica de estos inmigrantes. En los años 60, la mayoría de los inmigrantes vinieron de Italia y Alemania; en los 70’s el numero de inmigrantes Mexicanos comenzó a incrementar. Sin embargo, desde el 2009, la migración neta de Mexicanos se ha reducido a cero. De hecho, en el 2013 China reemplazó a México como el país con más inmigrantes en Estados Unidos. Esta disminución de inmigrantes oriundos de México es el resultado de varios factores – la recesión económica, una creciente ola de leyes anti-inmigrante y leyes inmigrantes más severas. Con la creciente estabilidad de la población inmigrante, esto significa que los inmigrantes indocumentados que permanecen en el país son residentes de largo plazo, personas que han vivido aquí por un plazo mediano de casi trece años.

Los otros dos cambios que han ocurrido, y que han impactado de gran manera a los inmigrantes indocumentados que viven en Estados Unidos son la restructuración de agencias gubernamentales a cargo de la regulación migratoria y ciertos cambios en las leyes de inmigración. Por décadas, el Servicio de Inmigración y Naturalización (INS por sus siglas en Ingles) supervisó los servicios de inmigración. En el 2003, esta agencia fue eliminada y sus funciones fueron puestas bajo tres agencias – Servicios de Ciudadanía e Inmigración (USCIS), Inmigración y Control de Aduanas (ICE), y Aduanas y Protección Fronteriza (CBP). Estas agencias fueron puestas bajo el recién creado Departamento de Seguridad Interna (DHS), una entidad establecida en respuesta a los ataques del 9/11.

Poco mas de una década antes de la creación de DHS, en 1996, el Congreso pasó la Reforma de la Inmigración Ilegal y de Responsabilidad del Inmigrante (IIRIRA). Este Acto expandió de gran manera la detención mandataria para ciertos inmigrantes. Ese mismo año, el Congreso paso la ley de Antiterrorismo y Pena de Muerte Efectiva (AEDPA). Juntas, estas leyes incrementaron dramáticamente el numero de inmigrantes sujetos a detención mandataria sin derecho a fianza. Durante un periodo de dos años, de 1996 a 1998, este numero incremento de 8,500 a casi 16,000.

Naturalmente, el numero de centros de detención ha incrementado. El Congreso requiere que DHS mantenga un numero de por lo menos 34,000 camas para detenidos cada día, distribuidas en una red de alrededor de 250 centros de detención en todo el país. Ninguna otra agencia federal requiere el mantenimiento de un numero especifico de detenidos sin primero determinar si esto tiene sentido desde un punto legal. Esto a resultado en una población promedio de mas de 30,000 detenidos por día desde el 2007.

El problema con esta cuota mínima es que DHS solo es dueño de 11% de las camas. Un 24% están localizadas en centros de detención propiedad de gobiernos estatales y locales, exclusivamente reservadas para inmigrantes; un 62% de toda las camas en centros de detención son operadas por corporaciones privadas y con fines de lucro. El resto de estas camas están localizadas en centros donde personas que están esperando un juicio o sirviendo sentencias criminales también están detenidas. Dos empresas de prisiones privadas – Corporación de Correcciones de América (CCA) y el Grupo GEO – dominan la industria de centros de detención para inmigrantes. Juntas operan 72% de las camas, y son propietarios y manejan 8 de los 10 centros de detención migratorios más grandes del país, incluyendo el Centro de Detención de Adelanto en el Sur de California, y el Centro Correccional del Condado de Karnes en Texas, el cual detiene a mujeres y niños Centro Americanos.

Estas empresas han creado un negocio muy lucrativo. En los últimos años de la década de los 90s, CCA estaba al borde de la quiebra. Pero en el 2000, recibió uno de los contratos mas grandes contratos que han sido otorgados a una empresa privada. Este contrato le dio a CCA la autoridad exclusiva de manejar el Centro de Detención Otay, el cual detiene solo a inmigrantes. Algunos de los contratos entre DHS y estas prisiones privadas incluyen una garantía mínima de camas, y una estructura de precios que le otorgan un descuento a ICE por cada persona en exceso del mínimo requerido. Esto a reducido el costo para detener a mas personas, y muchas veces detenerlas por periodos más largos.

El incremento en las ganancias para estas empresas y el numero mandatorio de camas coincide con un incremento en los gastos de cabildeo por algunos de estos negocios privados. De 1999 a 2009, la industria de prisiones privadas gastó $20,432,000 en esfuerzos de cabildeo – CCA gastó $18,002,000, y el Grupo GEO gastó $2,065,000. Sin embargo, este incremento en cabildeo no ha sido limitado a detención migratoria. En 2010, CCA envió una carta a 48 gobernadores haciendo una oferta de compra y operación de sus prisiones publicas. Esa carta ofrece un contrato de compra de 20 años si ciertos requisitos son cumplidos e incluyendo una cantidad mínima de detenidos del 90%. Este tipo de contratos preocupa a defensores de la justicia penal, quienes temen que esto promoverá la imposición de sentencias más severas para poder satisfacer estas cuotas.

El último punto que debemos entender sobre la detención de inmigrantes es su alto costo. El costo promedio para detener un inmigrante es aproximadamente $164 por persona por día. Desde 1986, cuando el ultimo programa extensivo de legalización ocurrió, el gobierno federal ha gastado mas de $241 billones en detención migratoria. Solo en el 2014, DHS pidió $2 billones en fondos para la detención de inmigrantes, aproximadamente 40% de los $5.3 billones del presupuesto de ICE ese año. Eso es aproximadamente $5.5 millones por día.

Aunque no hay información sobre el numero de inmigrantes quienes pueden reunirse con sus familias tras ser liberados bajo su propia responsabilidad o porque han podido pagar una fianza, sabemos que un numero estimado de 35,613 inmigrantes en procedimientos de deportación se les ha permitido quedarse en Estados Unidos en los últimos 5 meses. Las razones varían. Esto puede ser porque el juez ha decidido que los cargos en contra del inmigrante no pueden ser sostenidos, ellos tienen otra forma de alivio legal, o el gobierno ha decidido retirar los cargos. Sin embargo, sabemos que 70% de inmigrantes son sometidos ha detención mandatoria, y solamente en el año fiscal 2013, la administración del Presidente Obama deportó 438,421 inmigrantes.

Pero el costo de detención mandatoria de inmigrantes y la deportación no están limitadas a cifras en dólares. Muchos de estos detenidos tienen familias, e hijos y nietos. Ellos han establecido raíces en este país, muchas veces sobre un periodo de décadas. Es por eso que algunos defensores de inmigrantes han comenzado a abogar por alternativas a la detención, incluyendo la libertad bajo palabra, fianza, y otros programas de monitoreo. Estas alternativas no solo son mucho más económicas, también permitirán que los inmigrantes permanezcan cerca de sus familias mientras esperan una resolución de sus casos.

En mi siguiente articulo hablaré sobre quienes son puestos en libertad, el proceso y consideraciones que se toman en cuenta para determinar el monto de una fianza, y los negocios que han surgido para proveer este servicio.

 

 

 

 

The Other Bail System: Immigration Detention and Immigration Bonds

My name is Lizbeth Mateo. I am a 3L at Santa Clara Law with an interest in employment and immigration law. Prior to coming to law school I worked with undocumented immigrant families to fight against the deportation of their loved ones. My research will focus on immigration bail, not only because of the work I have done in the past but because being an undocumented immigrant myself makes this an issue that directly impacts me and my family.

When I started thinking about bail and how it works in the immigration context, I realized how little I know about the topic and how little information is available to the public. Since 2007, the national average daily detainee population has been more than 30,000. In fiscal year 2015 alone 406,595 immigrants were detained. A number of those detained were able to reunite with their loved ones either by posting bond or because they were released under their own recognizance – a promise to return to court for further proceedings. It is unclear, however, how many were released in this way— federal population statistics do not include the number of releases, and the numbers on the Transactional Record Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) website do not reflect these numbers either.

My research will be divided into three prongs. First, I will explain how immigration detention and immigration bail works by comparing it to the criminal system. Then I will focus on the issues immigrants face when trying to post bail – from the potential high bail amounts, the lack of resources to pay that money, language barriers when contracting with bail bond companies, and whether bail bond companies have different contracts or regulatory requirements for undocumented immigrants in ICE custody. I will also look at the state and federal regulatory framework for immigration bond services. I will conclude by focusing on pre-deportation release – the possible alternatives to immigration detention and bail, the cost of these alternatives, and the impact they may have on the detained immigrants and their families.