Fifty-five People out of GEO
Through the generosity of our donors, the Immigrant Freedom Fund bonded out seven people in May and one more in June. Tomorrow we will bond out the third person for July. The total number of ICE prisoners we will have assisted will be fifty-five, and many more people have benefited from having their fathers, sons, husbands, wives, mothers and community members released. All were prisoners in the ICE jail in Aurora that is run by the for-profit corporation GEO.
Happily, we bonded out two young men, who arrived at the border a few years ago seeking asylum as unaccompanied minors. They were apprehended and imprisoned by ICE in youth camps until they turned eighteen. When they reached that magic age, they were moved to GEO in Aurora. They both waited many months to have their bond hearings. I am grateful that our donors made it possible to bond each of them shortly after bond was granted. One of their bonds was $3000 and the other was $5000.
Changes in Department of Homeland Security Policies
Since our current federal administration has severely curtailed entry by asylum seekers into our country through Mexico, many of those applying for bond assistance are people who have been living in the United States for years. Men we bonded out in May were raising families here and contributing in other ways to their communities, including by paying taxes. Most of them live in Colorado and Utah and have returned to their families and friends. The immigration hearings that will determine whether they stay legally in the United States are not likely to occur before next year or the year after since immigration courts have backlog that has grown even bigger due to the coronavirus. Our hope is that there will be a seismic change in immigration policy at the federal level before the hearings take place. (Vote as though lives depend on it in November. They do.)
COVID-19 in GEO
Twelve members of the GEO staff have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since March, as well as 21 inmates and two ICE officials. Our work assisting people with immigration bond is increasingly urgent now that GEO is a breeding ground for the coronavirus. People on the inside are complaining that the disinfectant being used in the prison is causing body part swelling, nose bleeds and respiratory problems. GEO continues to make inmates pay for soap. Masks are scarce and social distancing is impossible.
Highest Bond We’ve Paid
On July 1, we bonded out a young man, who has lived in Southern California since early childhood. He was a DACA recipient until he crossed paths with local law enforcement. His DACA status was ended by ICE. He was released on his own recognizance with an ankle monitor. ICE suspected him of tampering with the ankle monitor and sent him to prison at the GEO center in Aurora, CO. The immigration judge set his bond at $20,000.
With help from individual donors and a couple of grants, the Immigrant Freedom Fund was able to scrape together money for his bond. Within three hours of getting home, he was arrested for not showing up at local court while he was incarcerated in Colorado. He explained it to the local judge and another court date was set. However, when he left the local court, ICE picked him up in the parking lot. He is now waiting for an immigration hearing in Adelanto prison. We are hopeful that the immigration judge will accept the previous payment of $20,000 in bond and send him home to wait for future hearings.
Detainee Waiting in Otay Mesa, California
We were hopeful about assisting in paying bond for a young Ethiopian asylum seeker as well. He was imprisoned by ICE at the Otay Mesa facility in California, which is run by another for-profit corporation, CoreCivic. Ironically, he is trying to join his family in Aurora, Colorado. ICE set his bond at $10,000 in March. When we joined with a California group to pay the bond, ICE refused to accept it because they claimed the man had not provided adequate identification papers. (We cannot help but wonder how they justify holding someone when they are supposedly unsure of who he is.)
This young man flew to South America from Africa and lost his passport as he traveled north. His family provided a copy of his passport, but ICE would not accept it as ID. A copy of his birth certificate was also provided by his family, but that did not satisfy the ICE office at Otay Mesa. We tried to get help for him through the Congressman of his proposed home in Aurora, Jason Crow, who is sympathetic to those imprisoned in GEO. His office asked for signed permission from the prisoner to investigate his case. I sent the permission forms to our Ethiopian applicant, but he never received them. This was not surprising because Otay Mesa is notorious for not delivering inmates’ mail.
The young man is terrified of staying in Otay Mesa. As you may have read, an immigration prisoner died there of COVID-19 at the beginning of May. The people in California, who are helping him, managed to procure a form of identification that is acceptable to ICE. Now ICE says that the man’s bond is no longer valid and that he will have to go before an immigration judge to try to get a new bond set. As I write this, the young man continues to wait in Otay Mesa for his bond hearing to be scheduled.
This is not how we want our government to treat people seeking safety in our country. We would like to see ICE abolished and new policies for welcoming immigrants put into place.
As always, the Immigrant Freedom Fund depends on contributions to assist people with their immigration bond. Please forward this newsletter to friends and family members. And donate what you can whenever you can. People incarcerated for wanting to live in the United States are counting on your donations. You can send a check to Immigrant Freedom Fund at 745 East 5th St., Loveland, CO 80537, or, if you don’t mind having some of your donation go to PayPal, you can donate right here on our website.