Category Archives: Partnership

Audio: Interview with Rebecca Fontaine, a Community Organizer in North Carolina

Community Organizer Rebecca Fontaine

The Bond Fund interviews Rebecca Fontaine, who is the community organizer at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice  (SCSJ) in Durham, North Carolina.  She discusses how she works with her colleagues and the Bond Fund on our joint project to oppose local police cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Rebecca dedicates her time to Immigrants’ Rights organizing and casework as a bilingual immigration paralegal. She brings a long history of participating in Latin America Solidarity work including trade justice campaigns, equitable development, demilitarization, and immigrants rights activism. Before coming to SCSJ she worked in Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast for over two years doing community-based development with rural families and coordinating experiential education for international delegations. Most recently she worked in a resource office at an immigrant-led community center in Durham. Rebecca graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine in 2005.

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The Other Crim-Imm Conundrum: Bail and Bond

The Supreme Court’s decision in Padilla is an important step toward protecting the due process rights of immigrants.  However, there are many problems with the interplay of criminal and immigration law and procedure, including this catch-22 situation for people picked up by local police in North Carolina.  Tana Liu-Beers, attorney and Equal Justice Works Fellow at the North Carolina Justice Center explains:

County jails in North Carolina are full of people who should not be there and who do not have a chance to get out.

Normally, people arrested for all but the most serious offenses get criminal bail set for them. Certainly someone arrested for a noise violation, driving without a license, or even DWI would get a criminal bail set. She can then pay the bail and get out of jail while she waits for her hearing date. For people suspected of being undocumented immigrants, though, there is virtually no way for them to get out. Worse, the system traps immigrants in a vicious legal double-bind from which it is nearly impossible to escape.

North Carolina has a plethora of immigration enforcement programs, many of which deputize local law enforcement to serve as immigration agents. In addition to the well-known 287(g) programs currently operating in eight counties, a program called “Secure Communities” is rapidly spreading. Only the purchase of digital fingerprint technology stands in the way of this darling of the Department of Homeland Security being implemented in every jail in the state. Other federal immigration enforcement programs are also widely used in our state.

The upshot of all these programs is more arrests of immigrants for minor offenses like noise violations and traffic offenses. And a single arrest in a 287(g) or Secure Communities county, regardless of whether the charges are later dropped, is enough to put you on your way to deportation. If the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (known as ICE), thinks someone is in the country without proper documentation, it lodges a detainer. An ICE detainer asks the jail to hold someone so that ICE can pick her up. ICE usually declines to set immigration bonds or release people.

What this means is that the opportunity to get out on bail is usually worthless to someone suspected of being an undocumented immigrant. If she pays her bail, ICE picks her up and moves her as fast as possible to an immigration detention center in South Carolina, Georgia or Alabama. The family then loses the bail money, and the immigrant is treated as if she jumped bail and fled from the law. Nevermind that the only reason she missed her state hearing is because she was in immigration detention in another state.

The only way to avoid this catch-22 is to find an immigration lawyer who is willing to request an immigration bond hearing for you. Unfortunately, immigrants in removal proceedings have no right to appointed counsel, so they are on their own to find and pay for someone. The vast majority of detained immigrants never get to consult with an immigration lawyer, much less be represented by one. Even with a lawyer, detained immigrants still have to get over the hurdles of convincing an immigration judge to set bond and getting together thousands of dollars to pay the bond.

Without a chance to get out of immigration detention, immigrants are wise to not pay their bail and just stay in jail. In many cases, these are people who pose no threat to the community and little flight risk. The state court said as much when it set bail for them. But because they are suspected of being undocumented immigrants, we insist that they sit in our county jails with no chance to get out.

The Bond Fund in North Carolina: One person’s story

Courtesy united-states-map.org

The Bond Fund recently started working with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice in Durham, North Carolina on a joint project.  Together we help immigrants who are arrested by local police on minor charges and referred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for detention.

Here is the story of one client, Arnulfo:

Arnulfo was sixteen years old when he was taken from his home and inducted into the Salvadoran Civil War, a conflict which lasted 12 years and left 75,000 dead. Unable to find work in war torn El Salvador and eager to escape the growing gang violence there, Arnulfo came to the U.S. with temporary protected immigration status.

But he has never been the same since the war, said his sister Aida: he struggles with scizophrenia, thoughts of suicide, alcohol dependence, and he has been admitted to mental health facilities multiple times.

Arnulfo was living and working in Maryland when he was robbed and lost his legal papers, which he was then unable to renew. He came to North Carolina and was living with his sister when the police came to the house because of a noise complaint.

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Aida was beside herself when her brother was detained. “As his older sister, I always feel a responsibility to take care of him,” she said. She knew she couldn’t afford bond on her own — $5000 — and thanks God that she found the Bond Fund. “I’m so happy being able to spend time with my brother and knowing that he’s alright,” she said, “I know being in jail was not good for his already fragile mental health.” [Reposted from Southern Coalition for Social Justice]

Read more about the project in the Catawba Valley Citizen.

The Bond Fund asks Shannah Kurland, “Why do you care?”

Shannah Kurland, of the Olneyville Neighborhood Association, speaking outside the Wyatt Detention Facility. Photo: The Providence Journal / Andrew Dickerman

The Bond Fund has worked with Shannah Kurland of Olneyville Neighborhood Association in Rhode Island since July 2008. Initially started in response to a workplace raid, our partnership continues as bond fund recipients go through the immigration process, and have their fair day in court.

The Bond Fund wanted to find out why Shannah Kurland cares about justice for immigrants.  Her own family has been in the US for more than a hundred years:  Pennsylvania Dutch on her mother’s side, and German-Jewish on her father’s.  This is our recent conversation with Shannah.

NIBF:  What do you do at the ONA?

Shannah: We try to bring people into the neighborhood association, and build an infrastructure for the community.   People are not really clients.  They are members of the ONA.  If someone is detained by immigration (ICE) we call around and try to figure out where they are.  We try to find people to go with someone to an ICE interview, or find a lawyer to help.

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NIBF:   Tell us a highlight of your community organizing work.

Shannah: So many people came out so fast to support the cleaning people arrested in the raid that night at the courthouse, in July 2008.   Within two hours there were about 200 people gathered, blocking the vans to transport people to ICE detention.  Out of the 31 arrested, 20 were released the same evening, or by morning.  I don’t know if the crowd made the difference, but you have to wonder.

NIBF:  Why do you care about immigrants?

Shannah: How can I feel good living in a world that’s messed up?  The big question is why do people have to migrate in the first place?   What is lacking for them, food? education?  I wouldn’t last a minute if I had to make that trip.  All the discussion is around “please don’t beat people up in detention,” when I really question the rules around the borders and who gets to make them.  I try to keep that perspective in my community work.  Its not like someone is “being nice” by “allowing” you to have a driver’s license.  People have a right!

Bond Fund client wins VAWA case

Last week Romy Lerner won a hard-fought victory on behalf of her client, a Bond Fund recipient. Ms. Lerner is an attorney at FIAC, the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center; and her client is now a Lawful Permanent Resident.

“This is an unusual case for us,” says Bond Fund Chairman Bob Hildreth, “We generally focus on community-wide response to immigration enforcement tactics such as raids, or cooperative agreements with local police. But sometimes an individual’s circumstances are so horrendous that we must step forward.”

Ms. Lerner’s client “Marie” came to the United States from Haiti as a very young child. She was physically and verbally abused by her mother, and pushed out of the house when she was only 14. Before long, Marie was a teenage mother with an abusive partner. She had no legal status in the US, even though her mother, or the father of her children, could have applied on her behalf.

Photo by Rennett Stowe

The father was violent toward Marie, and created an unsafe environment for their children. The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) took the children from their home. The situation grew more desperate when, in a separate matter, Marie was picked up by local police and referred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE detained her and set a bond she could not pay.

“It was a catch-22 situation,” said her attorney Ms. Lerner, “she could not appear in family court to get custody of her children while she was in ICE detention, and it would be hard to prove her immigration case without custody of the children. She needed to get out of detention to protect her parental rights and apply for cancellation.”

Ms. Lerner believed her client had a strong case for VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) cancellation of removal, based on the abuse she had suffered as a child and with her partner. DCF had records documenting Marie’s violent childhood.

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The Bond Fund loaned the money for Marie to get out of ICE detention. With Ms. Lerner’s assistance, she now has lawful status, and permission to work in the United States. Ms. Lerner says, “She is getting her life back together, looking for work, and endeavoring to take care of her young children, now ten, nine, and seven years old. Its been a tremendous struggle, but the help of the Bond Fund made everything a little easier.”

“We could not have done it without the people who support the Bond Fund,” said Mr. Hildreth. Now that Marie’s immigration case is closed, the bond money will be returned to the Fund, and available to help the next person.

National Immigration Forum on the Bond Fund: “Matching Funds for Due Process”

Maurice Belanger of the National Immigration Forum posted a great write up about the Bond Fund on their blog ImmPolitic:

“When an immigration raid happens, even where there is an outpouring of support in the community for the arrested immigrants, there is only so much a community can do to help.  The Bond Fund makes the community national.  It aggregates donations from people who want to help no matter where they live.”

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Read the entire post here.

“Even though I won in the end, I still lost so much of my life, and my children’s lives. Is that just?”

Matt Adams of NWIRP

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.

Jose Prieto

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.

Silvia Rivera of NWIRP

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.

Matt Adams

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.”

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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?”