Wednesday was my first ever hearing in immigration court, a bond hearing for an asylum seeker from Nicaragua, and I won!
When I met with the client the day before to prepare him for the hearing, he expressed some anxiety about our judge, despite my enthusiasm (of our choices at Stewart, we have the best possible judge). The client’s anxiety was based on the fact that he had heard that this judge had given someone a $12,000 bond. “Don’t worry,” I said, “there’s a fund that is paying bonds. The important thing is that the judge grants bond at all.”
8:00 AM comes, and the client and I are called to counsel table by Immigration Judge George Ward, who appears via video-telconference from Falls Church, Virginia. I presented my arguments to the judge as to why my client wasn’t a danger to the community or a flight risk, the two major considerations for all custody cases. The government argued (as it almost always does) that the client did indeed present a significant flight risk because the client’s sponsor is a stranger. However, the sponsor is a woman who has agreed to take a total stranger into her home because her parents fled to the United States in 1941 to escape the Nazis. And so, she has agreed to sponsor this man to honor that kindness done to her family and to pay it forward, so to speak.
The judge then asked me what I thought a reasonable bond amount would be. The client and I had previously discussed that his family might be able to afford $2,000, and I conveyed that to the judge.
Ultimately, the Judge said that he agreed with the government that my client was a flight risk without significant ties to the community. My heart sank. This is traditionally the death knell in Stewart. “However,” Judge Ward then explained, “I don’t believe that precludes me from giving him a bond, but I don’t think $2,000 is going to do it.” So, he granted bond in the amount of $10,000.
I was overjoyed. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, this isn’t the normal outcome in these courts. Bond is denied totally more often than not. And what a great outcome for my first hearing! As I left the courtroom, I congratulated the client and told him that I would see him later that afternoon to discuss next steps.
I went back to the office, and called the client’s brother to tell him the outcome, and ask about ability to pay. The brother indicated that he might be able to pay something, but he wasn’t sure how much. I told him not to worry. I would just apply to the bond fund (RAICES) for the full amount. I called his sponsor, who was thrilled at the outcome and ready to welcome the client to Boston as soon as possible.
After closing these loops, I filled out the form to apply for payment of the bond. Less than an hour later, I got a phone call from the new bond coordinator at RAICES. He called to tell me he had received my application, but unfortunately, RAICES is no longer paying bonds for anyone other than people who are victims of the family separation crisis. They are keeping a backlog list, but they don’t anticipate being able to pay bonds in any cases other than family separation cases for a few months. He was very apologetic.
My heart sank for real. This fund has been a game-changer for people who have nothing and whose freedom has a price tag of thousands of dollars. I told the client not to worry! I told the brother not to worry! I was GLAD to have a $10,000 bond imposed. And now I have to go back and tell a man who is totally alone in the United States that he has to come up with $10,000. (It does bear mentioning that RAICES is absolutely wonderful. They have done so much for so many, including SIFI clients. This is not in any way meant to bash them, or impugn their work or their organizational priorities).
In my moments of defeat and panic like this, I am so grateful for the bright, resourceful team OTG here. Monica immediately sprang into action, contacting people associated with other, smaller bond funds and community organizations, including the Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network (BIJAN). BIJAN told me that they have a number of great community resources that will be available to my client when he gets to Boston, but their bond fund (which is smaller than $10,000 anyway) was currently tapped out. I then reached out to a volunteer from El Refugio who met my client on a social visit and had written him a beautiful letter of support. She agreed to set up a Go Fund Me page for the client. A complicating factor in all of this is that SPLC (and therefore SIFI) is not allowed to accept donations for specific clients or projects (we’re not allowed to “earmark” funds). So, creative thinking is key.
At this point, I’m not sure what will happen. The client has another master calendar hearing in 10 days where he is expected to submit his I-589 application for asylum. If he doesn’t, he could be deported. My week since the hearing has been mostly fielding calls from all of the wonderful people who are supporting the client, including his very worried brother in Honduras.
This was supposed to be a win, but the shifting sands of the immigration landscape strike again.