Things That Matter

RAÍCES Just Used $2 Million In Donations To Free More Than 200 Migrants From Detention And Here’s Why

The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), a Texas-based nonprofit that advocates for immigrants, says it will pay $2.1 million for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release 200 immigrants detained across 20 states. The effort was made in conjunction with the National Bond Network. Using a network of organizations and volunteers, RAICES began making bond payments all over the country on Wednesday. 

The goal is, of course, to get immigrants out of the detention centers which have been criticized for their inhumane conditions but also to bring attention to the number of detained migrants. 

Some migrants must pay bonds for they can be released from custody.

“It’s ridiculous that people are coming to this country to seek safety, and they’re having to pay these outrageous amounts of money,” said Blake Vera, interim director of RAICES bond fund told CNN. “We’re stepping in to eliminate that financial obstacle.”

Over 47,000 migrants are currently sitting in ICE custody according to the agency. RAICES will make payments to facilities in San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Minneapolis, Boston, Hartford and Newark which will see the release of 200 migrants from 44 centers in 20 states. 

According to About Bail, migrants who get arrested and detained must pay a bond in order to be released from custody while they await their court appearance. While ICE does have the power to release the person without forcing them to pay, this often happens subjectively. 

“Bond decisions are based on an alien’s flight risk, and the potential threat to public safety,” ICE told CNN. “Each case is reviewed individually, taking into account factors like immigration history, criminal history and community ties.”

Bonds can range from $1,000 to $25,000 or more and unlike in criminal court, most migrants cannot receive bail.

“Today, we’re paying bonds, there’s some that are $30,000, some that are $20,000 or $10,000,” Vera told Newsweek. “It’s really unfortunate because you navigate this system and then a judge says, ‘okay, you have can have your freedom, but you need to pay $30,000 in ransom in order to escape this prison.'”

Once in custody, detainees must request a bail hearing with an immigration judge. Typically, more than half of these requests are denied. According to RAICES, only 30 percent of migrants who receive hearings are granted bail. 

Organizers say a bailout on this scale has never happened before. 

“This is the largest organized effort to pay this many immigration bonds in one day,” Vera told Newsweek. “We’re kind of in this weird state of being excited and anxious.”

Organizers believe what they called “Fall Freedom Day, was the largest effort to pay off migrant bonds in a single day ever. 

“Nothing like this has really happened before,” Vera said. The RAICES Bond Fund received contributions from 25,000 donors to make immigration bailout happen. 

Critics of the bonds believe they are often unnecessary and punitive, and that migrants who aren’t detained are more likely to thwart deportation and win their court cases. These migrants are better able to find lawyers and build a case more effectively outside of a cage. 

“Immigrants who are not detained and have attorneys are five times more likely to pursue relief and are nearly five times more likely [to] win their cases than those without attorneys, according to the AIC study,” the National Immigrant Justice Center said. “Detained immigrants are 11 times more likely to pursue relief when they have legal counsel and are twice as likely to obtain relief than detained immigrants without counsel.”

RAICES received national attention for raising $20 million in a week to reunite families.  

In 2018, RAICES garnered national attention after a California couple tried to raise $1,500 for the organization on Facebook. When the news cycle was still just unraveling the horrors of the Trump administration’s family separation policy, people were eager to pitch in and help any way they could. 

Dave and Charlotte Willner said that within a few days their little campaign was raising $4,000 a minute for RAICES. It even broke Facebook’s record for donations at the time. 

“What started out as a hope to help one person get reunited with their family has turned into a movement that will help countless people,” the Willners said in a statement.

One couple’s campaign raised $20 million for the nonprofit, enabling it to provide even more services to migrants in the U.S. Vera’s attitude echoed their sentiment saying this is everyone’s fight. 

“This is really a team effort to try to stand up to detention,” Vera said. “Otherwise we’re just kind of feeding into this cycle of paying ransom to ICE.”

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2020 Has Been A Tragic Year As A Record Number Of Migrants Die In ICE Custody

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2020 Has Been A Tragic Year As A Record Number Of Migrants Die In ICE Custody

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The news out of 2020 continues to devastate and it’s getting harder and harder to be shocked by just how horrible things are looking. However, the level of neglect inside ICE detention centers is so shocking that it’s leading to a record number of deaths. No matter what year it is, that is shocking.

It’s been 14 years, during the presidency of George Bush, since ICE detention centers have recorded the level of deaths that they’re recording this year. Despite warnings from health and immigration experts, ICE has largely refused to release immigrants from overcrowded cells despite an ongoing and out of control global health pandemic. This blatant disregard for life has had a huge impact as at least 18 people have died while in ICE detention centers so far this fiscal year.

ICE is responsible for the well-being of individuals in its custody and has broad discretion to release people for humanitarian reasons. The government should test everyone in its custody for COVID-19 and increase releases to prevent further deaths.

Three recent deaths in ICE detention centers bring 2020’s total to the second highest since 2006.

The death toll for immigrants in ICE custody reached the highest level since 2006 after three more people died this week.

Last week, it was reported that two men died while in ICE detention on August 5. One of the men who died last week was James Thomas Hill, a 72-year-old Canadian citizen who tested positive for COVID-19 about a month before his death. He was detained for three months at Farmville Detention Center in Virginia, despite being high-risk due to his age.

A 51-year-old man from Taiwan, Kuan Hui Lee, also died on August 5. Lee had been detained at Krome Detention Center in Florida for 7 months because he had overstayed a visa 16 years ago. While further details of his medical condition and death have not been reported, ICE has a long history of medical neglect of people in its custody with serious health conditions.

Then on August 11, Buzzfeed News reported that a 70-year-old Costa Rican man died in ICE custody at a Georgia Hospital on August 10, 2020, after testing positive for COVID-19. The man had been detained at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia. According to AJC.com, the detainee suffered from diabetes and hypertension and had been hospitalized since August 4, 2020. ICE officials confirmed the death to BuzzFeed News, but have not released any additional details yet.

These tragedies increased the total deaths in ICE custody this fiscal year to 18, the highest number since 2006. Many—if not all—of the deaths that occur in ICE custody are avoidable.

“Many of these deaths were avoidable, unnecessary, and a direct result of the Trump administration’s refusal to take basic steps to protect the health and safety of detainees,” John Sandweg, a former ICE director during the Obama administration, told BuzzFeed News.

Many deaths have been attributed to Covid-19 but that’s not the complete picture.

Coronavirus has swept through ICE detention centers like wildfire and this has had a major impact on the health and welfare of detainees, the community, and even ICE employees.

So far this year, more than twice as many people have died in ICE custody over last year. And, unfortunately, there are at least 1,065 active Covid-19 cases in ICE detention centers, meaning more people are likely to get sick and die before the year ends.

The number of deaths is especially alarming considering the average number of people detained has been significantly lower this year than in recent years.

Farmville, an ICE detention center in Virgina, has the largest COVID-19 outbreak in immigration detention. As of August 6, over 97% of people held in this ICE facility had contracted COVID-19. The outbreak began as a super-spreader event caused by a transfer of 74 people from Florida and Arizona.

Advocates have consistently criticized ICE for failing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the people it detains.

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The Trump Administration Raised Fees For Immigration Cases Including For Refugees

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The Trump Administration Raised Fees For Immigration Cases Including For Refugees

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In its continuing campaign against immigrants and refugees, the Trump administration has increased the costs of immigration proceedings – in some instances by more than 80%. These new fees could make the cost of seeking asylum protection in the U.S. or becoming a citizen out of reach for tens of thousands of immigrants.

The new fees are seen as little more than an additional tool used by the administration to further limit immigration to the U.S. and make life more difficult for those seeking to call the U.S. homes.

The Trump administration announced major changes to the fees charged for immigration proceedings.

On Friday, the Trump administration announced it would dramatically increase the fees for U.S. immigration services on everything from refugee asylum requests to naturalization services. The new fee structure, released by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), is expected to take effect on October 2.

The new fees are seen as little more than an additional tool used by the administration to further limit immigration to the U.S. and make life more difficult for those seeking to call the U.S. homes. It will also have an outsized impact on business that hire foreign workers.

The agency, which has closed offices and suspended most services during the pandemic, has said it faces a significant revenue shortfall that could trigger furloughs. Earlier this year, the agency requested $1.2 billion in emergency funds from Congress.

The U.S. will now be one of just a few countries that actually charge refugees to file asylum requests.

Credit: Gregory Bull / Getty Images

With the new fee charged to refugees and asylum seekers, the U.S. will become one of just four countries that actually charge for this application. The new fee for asylum is a blatant attack on the most vulnerable among us and is another way for the administration to target and restrict protections for those fleeing their home countries.

The $50 application fee for asylum applications now puts the U.S. in the same ranks as Iran, Fiji, and Australia. The new rule would also raise the cost for an asylum applicant to apply for an employment authorization document (EAD) from the current zero to $490, one of many policy changes to discourage potential asylum applicants. DHS commented, “DHS does not believe that the EAD fee is unduly burdensome for asylum seekers.”

However, one asylum officer who spoke with BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity said the fee was discouraging.

“The larger problem is that humanitarian applications by their nature should be free,” the officer said. “The idea of charging people who are fleeing — and not helping if they don’t pay up — is disgusting.”

Another asylum officer said it will cost the agency more to collect the fee than $50, “which doesn’t come close to covering the cost of adjudicating an asylum application.”

Other fees – from green card replacements to citizenship applications – will also be going up.

The new fee changes impact several categories of services offered by USCIS that will impact our community. Two of the most common types of visas issued by the agency (L and H-1B visas) will increase by 75% and 21% respectively.

The L visa – which is used for short term work in the U.S. – will increase from $460 to $805. The fee for an H-1B petition (which is used by employers to hire highly-skilled workers) will rise from $460 to $555.

For season workers in the U.S., of which there are hundreds of thousands, their fees will also increase by almost 50%. The current fee for these visas is $460 but the H-2A (season agricultural) will rise to $850 and the H-2B (seasonal non-agricultural) will rise to $715.

USCIS would increase the cost of the application (N-400) to become a U.S. citizen by more than 80%, rising from $640 to $1,160 (for online filings, although a separate $85 biometrics fee would be eliminated). 

The new increased fees come as the agency faces a financial crisis that many say are of its own making.

Many are concerned about the timing of these fee increases because USCIS is in the midst of historic mismanagement, that has face the agency from a substantial surplus to a deficit so severe USCIS has requested a $1.2 billion bailout from Congress.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, chair of the House Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, held a July 29, 2020, oversight hearing that helped explain how the Trump administration caused the financial problems at USCIS through its policy choices on immigration.

“Under the Trump Administration, USCIS has issued a flurry of policies that make its case adjudications more complicated, which reduces the agency’s efficiency and requires more staff to complete fewer cases,” testified Doug Rand, a founder of Boundless Immigration and a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists. “There are dozens if not hundreds of such policies.” 

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