Bond fund drive begins

Effort to help suspected illegal workers post bail

August 11, 2008|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,Sun Reporter

As national authorities step up immigration enforcement through workplace raids, advocates for immigrants are raising bond money to prevent people from routinely being detained while awaiting trial.

Advocates are conducting a fundraising campaign so that suspected illegal immigrants will be able to post bond after being arrested during raids.

"This is one tool to help them have access to justice," said Liz Alex, senior manager in Baltimore for CASA de Maryland, a statewide immigrant advocacy group.

The national fundraising campaign will be launched at a news conference today in Silver Spring, where CASA is headquartered.

About 10 of the 46 immigrants detained after a June raid on an Annapolis painting company were able to post bond with the help of the National Immigrant Bond Fund, said Alex.

Alex said the bonds ranged from $3,500 to $20,000; each person had to come up with half of the bond amount to gain access to the fund's money. They are accused of immigration violations.

"The way the immigration system is set up, it's very difficult for people to get their day in court and to have access to due process," said Alex. "They don't automatically have an attorney, and so for many of them it's very difficult."

The idea sprang from Robert Hildreth, a philanthropist in Boston, who came forward to help about 40 of the 200 immigrants swept up in a raid in New Bedford, Mass., last year. Hildreth donated $130,000 to help them post half of their bonds.

"In order to attend to every raid, which is our goal, we're going to need to have a lot of contributions," said Hildreth, who is chairman of the fund's steering committee.

The fund has distributed about $180,000 to immigrants arrested in four locations, including Annapolis, said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum in Washington.

Noorani said most of the fund's money has come from Hildreth, but that about $60,000 has been raised in pledges over the past few weeks.

"We've also received over $175,000 in requests for bond releases across the country," said Noorani. "We need to raise $300,000 to $500,000 a month just to begin to meet the demand. This effort needs a crisis response."

Jack Martin, special projects director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the money raised could be better spent. "We certainly don't have any problem with private efforts to make sure that illegal immigrants have fair hearings," said Martin. "But we think that the money would be spent more in the national interest if it were used to assist illegal immigrants involuntarily returning to their homelands."

ICE and local authorities raided Annapolis Painting Services Inc. and 15 area homes June 30 as part of a criminal investigation into the hiring and harboring of illegal immigrants.

The immigrants, some of whom have been sent to out-of-state detention facilities, are awaiting court hearings, said Alex.

The ICE has stepped up immigration enforcement efforts in recent years. As of May, the agency had arrested about 2,900 people on immigration violations in the fiscal year that began in October, including about 850 arrests in its crackdown on employers and workers.

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