What Can $20 Million Buy? Activists Attempt to Post Bond for 2,500 Parents in Immigration Detention

What Can $20 Million Buy? Activists Attempt to Post Bond for 2,500 Parents in Immigration Detention

What Can $20 Million Buy? Activists Attempt to Post Bond for 2,500 Parents in Immigration Detention

Detained mothers often have to pay the government $10,000 before being allowed to reunite with their children.

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A Texas-based organization has $20 million in bond money that it’s ready to hand over to release and help reunify families separated and detained as the result of the White House’s zero-tolerance immigration policy. But the Trump administration’s heartlessness is matched only by its incompetence, and it failed to meet a Tuesday deadline set by a federal judge to reunite children with their parents.

“Tell people not to come to our country illegally,” Trump said Tuesday, responding to his administration’s missed deadline. “That’s the solution. Come like other people do. Come legally.”

On Tuesday, RAICES Texas, together with Representative Joaquin Castro (D-TX) and other members of Congress, showed up on the steps of Capitol Hill to shame the Department of Homeland Security into accepting money to bond out migrant mothers in detention.

“We never thought that this administration would stoop as low as it has,” said Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva. “Separating moms from their kids and creating the situation where we don’t know how to reunify them again.”

The legal-services-and-advocacy nonprofit received $20 million in public donations in a viral Facebook fundraiser that was initially set up to raise just enough money to pay the bond of one parent. Now RAICES has the funds to potentially bond out thousands.

So far, just 38 of the 108 children under the age of 5 who are currently held in government custody have been reunited with their parents. Posting bond is the first step to bringing families together, Ryan explained. The administration has reunited only 1 percent of the families that it’s required to within the next 14 days.

A mother must first be released out of immigrant detention and get herself to a stable address before she can be reunited with her child, but bond, the first step in the process, can be prohibitively expensive. As a result, many who are otherwise eligible for release remain locked up indefinitely.

An immigration judge has broad discretion to lower, hold, or increase a bond amount set by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Bond can never be less than $1,500, but there is no upper limit. Increasingly, Ryan said, people held in detention centers in Texas have had bonds set at $10,000. RAICES estimates that with their $20 million, they can now offer to post bond for 2,500 detained mothers being held apart from their children, and therefore help the federal government meet its own court-mandated obligations to reunite families. That families are even required to pay money to be reunited strikes many as a kind of ransom.

Bond itself is a punitive tool, Ryan said. But getting families out of detention and back together is a crucial part of helping families fight their immigration cases, he explained. It’s extraordinarily difficult to establish oneself, find and maintain contact with an immigration attorney, and work to gather the supporting documents necessary to make a case for asylum while locked up. Even after being released from detention and put in government surveillance programs, mothers and children are still in removal proceedings.

In the last three weeks, Ryan said, RAICES has already paid off $100,000 in bond for 18 women. “This has allowed people to do what they do best, which is to join their communities and organize and advocate on their own behalf.”

Under the federal government’s own laws, and indeed even on the US Citizenship and Immigration Service’s own website, a person “may apply for asylum status regardless of how you arrived in the United States or your current immigration status.” That is precisely what people who are arriving at the US-Mexico border are trying to do, but what the Trump administration is making nearly impossible. “It is our government who is breaking the law to create a spectacle,” Ryan said.

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