Isabel discovered she was pregnant May 14. She and her husband, Jack (names changed because of his undocumented status), had been trying to start a family for years. They had a miscarriage in 2015. In 2016, their baby girl died an hour and a half after being born premature. Given the past complications, this new pregnancy was a huge deal. But Isabel wasn’t able to tell Jack in person.
He was one of 32 workers seized
during a May 9 raid at the Midwest Precast Concrete facility (MPC) in
Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. It was the largest Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE) raid in the state since 2008, when 900 agents
blitzed a meatpacking plant in Postville and put a tenth of the small
town’s population in jail.
Isabel’s stepfather, also an MPC
employee, went out for lunch that day, narrowly avoiding arrest. He
returned to find a deserted plant—uneaten plates of food, cars left
in the parking lot.
When Isabel called Jack to tell him
about the pregnancy, he was being held in an ICE contracted detention
facility in Wisconsin. He was overjoyed; he’d been using the time
to think of baby names “for whenever we do have a kid.”
But Jack was also worried. He
didn’t know whether he’d be present for his child’s birth,
still in detention, or deported.
Then Isabel received a call from
the Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project (EICBP), part of a wave of
new groups that bail out detained immigrants. They wanted to help.
EICBP posted Jack’s bond on June
18, and he’s now home with Isabel. His immigration hearing is
scheduled for 2019. He could still be deported to El Salvador, where
gang violence and the state crackdown on organized crime (carried out
with U.S. support) cause many civilian causalities. Still, Jack will
be present for the birth of their child, which Isabel considers a
“If the outcome is not favorable,
at least they’ve had time to sort out family affairs,” says
Natalia Espina, a co-founder of EICBP.
When EICBP started in January 2017,
it was one of two immigration bond funds in the nation. Since its
scrappy, grassroots beginning, the small, volunteer run organization
has raised over $80,000 to free a total of 21 immigrants, 13 of whom
are undocumented workers seized during the May 9 raid. Today, EICBP
is one of 15 active immigration bond projects in 12 states and one of
37 members of the National Bond Fund Network.
For most detained immigrants,
securing a bond is the only way to live outside detention while the
federal government decides whether to deport them, a process that
averages 700 days. There is no federal limit on how long an immigrant
can be held without trial.
According to a PBS News Hour
investigation, the average bond amount has increased under President
Trump, with immigration court judges often setting bond at amounts in
excess of $10,000—well above the $1,500 legal minimum. Higher bonds
mean that immigrants are spending more time in detention (and
for-profit detention facility operators are making more money). Jack
was fortunate to get out in 40 days.
EICBP worked with a network of
interfaith groups in Mt. Pleasant that raised funds for the MPC
workers’ legal fees, including Jack’s. Immigrants facing removal
have a right to legal representation, but not at the government’s
expense, because deportation is not treated as a criminal matter.
Unsurprisingly, immigrants with access to attorneys fare better at
every stage of the process.
Those like Jack who are fighting
for “cancellation of removal” face an uphill battle: They must
demonstrate “good moral character,” no convictions that render
them deportable, and a continuous presence in the U.S. for at least
ten years. What’s more, they must prove that deportation would
cause “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” to a child,
spouse, or parent—above and beyond the expected trauma of
separating a family.
During the month that her husband
was imprisoned, Isabel experienced what the U.S. government would
likely consider “unexceptional” hardship. “At night, the entire
house would be quiet—it was just bad,” she says. Seeing her
husband’s empty place in the church pew “was really sad, knowing
that I had no idea when I would see him again or when he would fill
>> The article above was written by Elena Carter, and is reprinted from In These Times.