Matt Adams of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project writes about his experience with the Bond Fund and his client Jose Prieto:
His Story. Mr. Jose Prieto first came to the United States in 1976 on a visa to study at the Southern Oregon University. In 1981 he became a legal permanent resident. Twenty five years later, in February of 2005, he was arrested at his home by immigration authorities, based on his only offense, a misdemeanor conviction from 1989. It was a complete shock to be arrested and placed in immigration custody sixteen years later. In 1989, his conviction was not considered a deportable offense. The Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) helped him argue that the old misdemeanor conviction should not make him deportable now. It was unfair to go back in time and apply new changes in the law.
Detention. Mr. Prieto was stuck in the immigration prison in Tacoma while he fought his case. Prior to his detention he had worked for 14 years as a social worker for the State of Oregon. For the last ten years he had a second weekend job as an outreach worker to the homeless. Still, the government refused to release him or give him a bond hearing. As a result, he lost his home, lost his job, and worse yet, was separated from his eight year old daughter and eleven year old son.
Freedom. With the help of his lawyer at NWIRP, Mr. Prieto went to federal district court to get an order for a bond hearing. A bond was initially set at $15,000 and later reduced to $10,000. He had already been locked up by immigration for so long that he had no resources left to pay the bond. His friends in the community raised $5,000 and the National Immigrant Bond Fund agreed to pay the other $5,000. Mr. Prieto was finally released on bond, after three and a half years of separation from his family.
Victory. On January 19, 2010, almost five years after he was first arrested, the Board of Immigration Appeals ruled that his misdemeanor conviction did not qualify as a deportable offense. His attorney, Matt Adams stated, “it is a big relief that he is finally able to move on and try to rebuild his life. Many people can not bear to last three or six months locked up, let alone three and a half years. Even Mr. Prieto at that point was getting ready to give up on his case. Many people who have strong cases give up because they can’t bear the suffering of being locked up for prolonged periods.”
Dignity and Due Process. Mr. Prieto is grateful to the NWIRP, the National Immigrant Bond Fund, and his friends who paid the bond for his release. Still he notes, “If ICE wants to deport me, that’s fine if they can show they have a real basis, but they shouldn’t keep me locked up during that long process. In my case, even though I won in the end, I still lost so much of my life, and my children’s lives. Is that just?”