CALIFORNIA, Dec. 8, 2022—The American Immigration Council, Immigrant Legal Defense, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), and the National Bail Fund Network with its local bond fund members NorCal Resist, Prairielands Freedom Fund, and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to compel U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to publish on its website guidelines and procedures explaining how the agency processes bonds for the release of individuals in detention.
The new lawsuit challenges ICE’s failure to provide the public with information about different aspects of the bond payment process, which leads to obstacles and delays for advocates, families, and friends attempting to pay bonds to free their loved ones. People who try to pay bonds often lack information about ICE offices’ hours of operation and forms of accepted payments, have encountered inconsistent payment rejections, and even have been racially profiled for additional questioning. Family members, advocates, and impacted individuals should have access to agency manuals and instructions relating to the posting, revocation, cancellation, and refunding of immigration bonds.
The plaintiffs filed this lawsuit to compel ICE to follow the law and make public various bond policies it has implemented but that are not available on ICE’s website. FOIA’s proactive disclosure provision requires agencies to make publicly available on its website certain information that affects the public. This should include information such as how to post payment, the hours of operation for payment locations, and any additional steps those paying bonds must follow, which ICE has failed to publish.
“Paying immigration bonds is frequently one of the only ways we can support people in being released from immigration detention. However, in a system designed to keep people caged, it comes as no surprise that ICE routinely obstructs people’s ability to get their loved ones out,” said Elizabeth Nguyen, Migrant Justice Organizer at the National Bail Fund Network. “Through this lawsuit, we demand that ICE stop hiding behind fabricated policies and procedures to prevent or delay the release of our people.”
“The ability to post bail is critical for freeing our community members from immigration detention and preventing deportation,” said Beatriz Gomez-Rodriguez, case coordinator for RAICES’ Bond Program. “But ICE’s lack of transparency around its bond procedures and policies creates confusion and prevents thousands of people from reuniting with their families and loved ones. Without proper information, bond-eligible people face extended detention or re-detention because of repeated or failed attempts by family members or organizations to post their bond. That’s why we’ve filed a FOIA request to compel ICE to share clear and direct information on how people can pay bonds and be released from detention. People deserve to fight their cases with dignity, but they will never be able to do that if they continue to be incarcerated.”
“With this lawsuit, we want to hold ICE accountable so that they follow their own procedures and make information accessible. The immigration system in the United States is already difficult to navigate, but agencies such as ICE have erected additional barriers by refusing to make essential information accessible on their websites. Everyone deserves to know how to pay a bond and secure the release of a loved one from ICE custody. Families and affected individuals need to know where to go and have the information they need,” added Raul Pinto, senior staff attorney, American Immigration Council.
“Federal law prohibits government agencies from relying on secret laws and policies when dealing with members of the public, yet that is exactly what ICE is doing. By failing to proactively disclose its immigration bond policies, ICE is applying a secret set of rules to decide who can be freed from detention while awaiting their deportation proceedings. No one should be deprived of their liberty without full transparency of the policies being applied to them. Today’s lawsuit seeks to bring an end to this unlawful practice,” said Nikhel Sus, senior counsel, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
A copy of the complaint is here.
The American Immigration Council works to strengthen America by shaping how America thinks about and acts towards immigrants and immigration and by working toward a more fair and just immigration system that opens its doors to those in need of protection and unleashes the energy and skills that immigrants bring. The Council brings together problem solvers and employs four coordinated approaches to advance change—litigation, research, legislative and administrative advocacy, and communications. Follow the latest Council news and information on ImmigrationImpact.com and Twitter @immcouncil.
RAICES, formally known as the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that promotes migrant justice by providing legal services, case management, and advocacy for immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees. Learn more at raicestexas.org.
CREW is a non-partisan legal watchdog group, founded in 2003. In a political moment where profits are prioritized over ethics and anonymous money damages the democratic process, CREW highlights these violations of the law and abuses of power through aggressive research and legal action.
Immigrant Legal Defense (ILD) is a nonprofit organization based in Oakland, California, dedicated to providing legal services to marginalized immigrant communities in California and throughout the United States. Among those that ILD advocates for are individuals facing removal proceedings, including individuals detained in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ILD represents individuals at all stages of their removal cases, before the immigration courts, the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the federal courts. ILD strives to pursue strong due process protections for all immigrants, including a meaningful right to be heard in the courts, as well as transparency and accountability by the immigration agencies.