Keeping Asylum Seekers Locked Up

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Commentary

by Daniel Nardini

It is another flaw in the U.S. immigration system that mandates certain categories of asylum seekers be incarcerated. One example of this is the case of a Honduran lady named Maria Sandra Rivera. Rivera had been in an abusive relationship where her live-in partner had raped her. Fearing for her life, she escaped Honduras to the United States. She was caught by U.S. immigration and locked away in an internment camp for undocumented. Unlike the undocumented, Rivera had come to the United States to escape not only a bad personal relationship but the violence in her own country. A federal court judge agreed with Rivera, and had ordered her free………….provided she could post a cash bond of U.S. $3,500. Well, she did not have that kind of money, and so she had to spend another five months in prison until another judge ordered her unconditional release.

She had only won her release after the American Civil Liberties Union and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project of Washington State argued that she was being penalized for not having the cash bond to leave prison. According to the law, an asylum seeker should be given conditional release provided this person has a place to live (which Rivera did from friends), has no criminal record, able to go to and from court, and would not be a flight risk. Rivera was most certainly not a flight risk—she had fled Honduras and was seeking shelter and protection in the United States. Why would she flee? She certainly was no threat to anyone in the United States, and she most certainly wanted her day in court so she could gain asylum. The main problem is with the whole concept of a cash bond. Ninety-nine percent of all asylum seekers who are imprisoned in immigration detention centers cannot post a cash bond. Ninety-nine percent of all those asylum seekers who arrive in this country have little more than the clothes on their backs and quite possibly a few dollars in cash.

They most certainly do not have anywhere near the money to post cash bonds of hundreds or thousands of dollars. The sad truth is that if they cannot post a cash bond then they are kept in prison. This makes no sense since it means that the U.S. taxpayer must spend U.S. $24,000 for an incarcerated asylum seeker who has NO interest in escaping from this country and does not have a criminal record. It is the sad reality that those innocent people trying to escape persecution, brutality and war in their countries of origin are thrown into a U.S. immigration internment camp and not allowed out when they cannot pay a prohibitive cash bond. Even if they have family or relatives here, cash bonds can still be prohibitive because they are set very high. As I said it is a flaw in the immigration system that needs to be addressed.

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