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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Smugglers Are Tagging U.S.-Bound Migrants With Color Coded Wristbands And Here’s Why

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Smugglers Are Tagging U.S.-Bound Migrants With Color Coded Wristbands And Here’s Why

As the United States experiences a so-called surge of people attempting to enter the U.S., human traffickers and smugglers are working double time as they try to capitalize on the increased movements.

Cartels and human traffickers have long run their smuggling operations like a legitimate business but they’ve only got more advanced in how they move people across the border region and one key tool: color-coded bracelets. These bracelets almost act as passports for migrants to safely cross a cartel’s territory without interference or threats of violence. But what do these bracelets mean and how are they fueling the problem of human trafficking?

Plastic bracelets are being used by cartels to identify migrants in their territory. 

U.S. border agents carried out nearly 100,000 apprehensions or rapid expulsions of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in February, which is the highest monthly total since mid-2019. With the increase in people attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, cartels are managing this migration of people over their territory and trying to make money off the humanitarian crisis. 

Many cartels have implemented a color-coded bracelet system that identifies those migrants who have paid for permission to cross their territory. In the Rio Grande Valley sector, Border Patrol agents have recently encountered immigrants wearing the bracelets during several apprehensions, Matthew Dyman, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, told Reuters.

The “information on the bracelets represents a multitude of data that is used by smuggling organizations, such as payment status or affiliation with smuggling groups,” Dyman said.

The color-coded system isn’t totally understood.

Credit: ED JONES/AFP via Getty Images

Migrants can pay thousands of dollars for the journey to the United States and human smugglers have to pay off drug cartels to move people through parts of Mexico. This is a money-making operation and cartels want to pay close attention to who has paid. The bracelets may just be a new way to keep track.

Criminal groups operating in northern Mexico, however, have long used systems to log which migrants have already paid for the right to be in gang-controlled territory, as well as for the right to cross the border into the United States, according to migration experts. In fact, in 2019, smugglers kept tabs on rapidly arriving Central American migrants by double checking the names and IDs of migrants before they got off the bus to make sure they had paid. 

One man, a migrant in Reynosa – across the border from McAllen, Texas – who declined to give his name for fear of retaliation, showed Reuters a picture of a purple wristband he was wearing. He told them that he had paid $500 to a criminal group in the city after he arrived from Honduras to ensure that he wasn’t kidnapped or extorted. He said once migrants or their smugglers have paid for the right to cross the river, which is also controlled by criminal groups, they receive another bracelet.

“This way we’re not in danger, neither us nor the ‘coyote,’” he told Reuters.

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Despite Promises, President Biden Looks To Reopen A Child Migrant Center Facing Sexual Assault Allegations

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Despite Promises, President Biden Looks To Reopen A Child Migrant Center Facing Sexual Assault Allegations

Since taking office in January, President Biden has been hard at work addressing everything from the nation’s COVID vaccine program and economic response to comprehensive immigration reform. However, several of his planned changes have hit major roadblocks as federal judges (many appointed by Trump) strike down his new policies.

But despite much of his administration’s progress on issues that affect the Latino and immigration communities, the administration is seriously considering reopening one of the country’s largest child migrant detention centers.

The Biden administration looks to reopen the Homestead facility for children.

The Biden administration is facing a sharp increase of unaccompanied child migrants arriving at the US-Mexico border and they’re considering reopening one of the nation’s most controversial detention centers.

The Miami Herald reported that the feds might reopen the Homestead site under the name Biscayne Influx Care Facility, an announcement that has caused outrage among advocates working towards ending the detention of children altogether.

“That place has a history of all kinds of abuse and profiting off the lock-up of children,” said Lis-Marie Alvarado, program director of the Miami-based organization American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which led the call for Homestead’s closure in 2019. A move to reopen the facility is “appalling and a slap to our faces,” she said.

The center has a troubling history of sexual assault allegations.

The facility was in the news in 2019 following shocking allegations of sexual abuse and prison-like conditions, which drew the condemnation of several Democratic candidates for president, including current Vice President Kamala Harris.

Detaining children, particularly in such dire conditions, “is a human rights abuse being committed by the United States government,” she told a small crowd. Harris later described seeing “children lined up like prisoners” as heartbreaking. 

Homestead first opened as a temporary shelter in 2016 under President Barack Obama, closed the following year, and was reactivated in 2018. Between March 2018 and August 2019, it housed more than 14,300 unaccompanied minors ranging from 13 to 17 years old, including dozens who had been torn from their parents under Trump’s policy of separating families. The average length of stay in the facility was 52 days by March 2019, with some minors spending almost four times as long.

The hypocrisy of the administration is truly frustrating.

Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In June 2019, then-Senator Kamala Harris (and candidate for president) visited the Homestead facility demanding that it be shut down. She, along with several other Democratic lawmakers, joined a series of rallies at the center to denounce Trump’s cruel immigration policies. The facility was subsequently shut down just a month later after mounting public pressure.

But now, a year and half later, the facility might be reopened under the Biden-Harris administration.

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