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.”

Hundreds Of Migrants Are Attempting To Form Another Caravan To The United States But Here’s Why Mexico Won’t Let Them Pass

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Hundreds Of Migrants Are Attempting To Form Another Caravan To The United States But Here’s Why Mexico Won’t Let Them Pass

@Delmar_Martinez / Twitter

Migrants often group together to form large groups for reasons of safety, child care, and increased presence during confrontations with police, gangs, and immigration agents. It’s these reasons that helped spur the large caravans of migrants that traveled from Central Mexico to the United States in 2018.

In 2018, the migrant caravans were a major talking point for conservative politicians who used them to instill fear in voters. However, few migrants actually made it to the US-Mexico border and those that did were turned away to await their asylum claims in Mexico. Now, thanks to new immigration agreements and unilateral pressure by the US, most migrants realize that their journey across Central American and Mexico won’t likely result in them successfully making it to the United States.

Hundreds of mostly Honduran migrants grouped together to try and form a caravan to help aide passage to the United States.

Credit: @Delmer_Martinez / Twitter

So far, according to reports, about 1,300 Honduran migrants have successfully crossed the border into Guatemala.

Guatemalan police officers were accompanied at the checkpoint by four agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Agent Alex Suárez told the AFP that ICE was there to train Guatemalan authorities in immigration control.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman said Homeland Security personnel — ICE as well as Customs and Border Protection — are in Guatemala “providing advisory and capacity building support” to deal with irregular migration.

According to Guatemala’s new president, Mexico plans to contain the caravan before it’s able to make it to the US.

Credit: EqualityNow / Instagram

Mexico’s government is bracing for the arrival of hundreds of Central Americans on its southern border in coming days, an event likely to be closely monitored by the U.S. government, which has made curbing illegal immigration a priority.

Guatemala’s president said he had met with Mexico Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, who had told him that Mexico would not allow the caravan to advance into its territory.

“The Mexican government advised us that it is not going to let them pass … that it is going to use everything in its hands to keep them from passing,” Giammattei said. 

“We will warn those in the caravan that they are probably going to be able to arrive to the border (with Mexico), but from there on they are going to collide with a wall that they will not be able to penetrate and we believe many of them are going to give up.” 

Later, Mexico Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero, said Mexico would welcome those seeking asylum or protection and offer opportunities for those who wanted to enter legally and seek permission to work or study.

Giammattei said travel agreements between Central American nations required Guatemala to grant the migrants passage.

Credit: ZaraConZ / Instagram

In his first full day in office, Guatemala’s new president, Alejandro Giammattei, said the Hondurans would be allowed to enter Guatemala, which they must cross to reach Mexico and the United States.

“We cannot prevent people who have identification” from entering, Giammattei said. “We are going to ask for their papers from the parents of guardians in the caravan, and if they don’t have them they will be returned to Honduras. We have to protect the rights of children.”

Arriving in Guatemala chiefly via crossings on its northern border with Honduras, around 1,350 migrants had been registered entering legally by late morning, said Alejandra Mena, a spokeswoman for Guatemala’s National Migration Institute.

The US has put Mexico and Central American nations under pressure to accept a series of migration agreements that aim to shift the burden of dealing with asylum-seekers on to them, and away from the United States.

Credit: Department of Homeland Security

Most attempts at forming caravans in 2019 were broken up by police and the national guard in Mexico, which has come under increased U.S. pressure to prevent migrants from arriving at the U.S. border.

The prospects for any kind of caravan like the one in 2018, which involved thousands of people, appear remote. Many of the migrants from the 2018 caravan applied for asylum, something that is now difficult or impossible.

The U.S. has used a carrot-and-stick approach in bilateral agreements struck since July with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador to deny people an opportunity to apply for asylum in the U.S. They are instead to be sent to Central America with an opportunity to ask for protection there.

“The truth is, it is going to be impossible for them to reach the United States,” said human rights activist Itsmania Platero. “The Mexican police have a large contingent and they are going to catch all the migrants without documents and they will be detained and returned to their home countries.”

She’s An Undocumented Migrant Herself But Is Fighting For People Like Her In The Court System

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She’s An Undocumented Migrant Herself But Is Fighting For People Like Her In The Court System

Emily Berl / Getty

Lizbeth Mateo always had a strong sense of justice since she was a small child. It was this determination that would lead her to become an immigration lawyer and a controversial appointment to a post on a state advisory committee, despite being undocumented. 

The Los Angeles lawyer is a DREAMER. She came to the U.S. from Oaxaca with her parents at 14 years old. Now, 20 years later, Mateo protects immigrants in court every day and each time she does she faces possible arrest and deportation. The Los Angeles Times profiled Mateo as she fights for herself by fighting for others. 

“I’m a walking contradiction,” Mateo told the newspaper.

Officials received death threats when Mateo was appointed to a state advisory board.

When the Senate Rules Committee appointed Mateo to the California Student Opportunity and Access Program Project Grant Advisory Committee, her legal status made headlines. 

“While Donald Trump fixates on walls, California will continue to concentrate on opportunities,” Kevin de León, state Senate president pro tem, said in 2018. “Ms. Mateo is a courageous, determined and intelligent young woman who at great personal risk has dedicated herself to fight for those seeking their rightful place in this country.”

De Leon took a lot of flack, including death threats, for appointing an undocumented immigrant. But who better to help underserved students than one herself. 

“There were some really angry people who said really nasty things,” said Mateo. “They said ICE is coming, they’re going to report me and they hope Trump sends the Army.”

Mateo is a local hero to immigrants who credit her courage for making real change. 

“Any of us with DACA owe Lizbeth and the movement,” said Mateo’s attorney Luis Angel Reyes Savalza who is also undocumented.

Mateo is still on her journey to citizenship. She believes that for people like her, people who have come here without papers but contribute so deeply to society will have a chance at naturalization — at least someday. 

“I wouldn’t say I worry about her. I’d say I’m very much inspired by her, and she’s inspired many others in her outspokenness and her activism,” Reyes Savalza said. “I do think she’s taking a very calculated risk, and I think it speaks to the kind of person she is that she puts community first.”

Even if Mateo is unsurprised by the Trump’s administration anti-immigration policies and disappointed in Democrats who have done little to stop him, she still believes her chances in the United States were better than in Oaxaca. 

“It provides opportunities. So much so that someone like me, who came from a tiny town in Oaxaca — with parents who only finished sixth grade, nothing more — could make it and become an attorney,” she said. 

Mateo’s journey from a struggling ESL student to a revered lawyer was not easy. 

Mateo attended Venice High but it was no walk in the park, the once superstar student wasn’t able to shine her brightest as she struggled to learn English.  

“I couldn’t stand being in school, didn’t understand things and felt isolated and very stupid. In Mexico, I was outgoing and always raising my hand and answering questions,” Mateo said. “I remember one day I came home crying and told my mom I wanted to go back to Oaxaca and live with my grandmother. She said OK, we’ll send you back if that’s what you want. But you have to wait because we don’t have any money.”

Mateo didn’t give up. She graduated from Venice High then attended Santa Monica College and Cal State Northridge. Although her options for grad school and job prospects would be limited due to her immigration status, she continued to fight for her place in the United States. 

In 2014, she and nine other DREAMERs were arrested after traveling south of the border then returning to protest deportations under the Obama administration and lobby for the DREAM act. The move, going back to Mexico, disqualified her from receiving DACA protections. Mateo was still able to attend Santa Clara University for law school soon after. 

“There was a level of determination that is very rare and inspirational and … what was amazing was that she led others,” said one of her professors, Michelle Oberman. “She’s a hero of mine and in this day of big egos she’s quite centered. … It’s all in the service of others and it’s not about her. That’s what’s most singularly impressive.”

Mateo received her law degree, passed the bar, and made defending immigrants her life’s mission. And the rest is history in the making.