ICE and GEO, a private, for-profit corporation, are currently holding 500 refugee women and children against their will in a jail (“residential center”) in Karnes County, about two hours southeast of Austin, or about an hour east of San Antonio. The facility held men until this summer, when it was converted to a “family” “residential” place to detain/imprison women and children who are part of the so-called “surge” of Central American refugees. Tragically, ICE and GEO are adding on to the building so that it will house double the number of immigrants; at the same time, ICE is building another “residential” detention center designed to hold women and children in Dilley, Texas, also at some distance from a core of advocates and lawyers who are donating our time and resources.
ICE is refusing to set bond on ANY of these women or children, maintaining that they are ALL threats to national security. As one deportation officer told me, “we are not setting bonds on anyone unless a judge orders us to do so.” One judge has released people on bonds from anything to zero (released on their own recognizance) to $7500; another judge sets bonds even higher.
To make matters worse, ICE is appealing all the grants of bond.
Nevertheless, a small group of advocates (including lawyers) are doing our best to obtain the release of these women from Karnes City, as our compas have also been doing in Artesia, New Mexico. Why is it so important to gain their release?
Detention, however you call it, is no place for traumatized children and adults. People need tender loving care and attention, time and patience and affirmation – not a hostile system that treats people as criminals.
Detention in Karnes City makes it difficult for people to have access to lawyers, language interpreters, religious clergy, pastors, friends and family.
There is not adequate or independent medical or mental health care, or places to play and grow, or learn.
Many of the Central American families who are now detained at Karnes have a family member, or at least a close friend, somewhere in the U.S. If you are such a family member or friend, and you want to get your loved ones out of detention, these are things you need to know:
YOUR IDENTITY. You need to be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident in order to host or sponsor your loved ones. When you write your letter to the judge, you will need to attach a copy of your U.S. birth or naturalization certificate, or a copy of your current legal permanent resident card. You will also need a recent photographic identification card. If you are a U.S. citizen by birth, you could show this by submitting both a copy of your birth certificate and a current driver’s license. (If you became a U.S. citizen through naturalization relatively recently, your naturalization certificate will have your photograph on it.)
If you have a life partner or are married, both of you should really write your own letters so that the judge knows that you agree to this plan of having another family come live with you! The partner or spouse who does not have the relationship with the family does not have to write as detailed a letter as you do, but just make sure that she or he agrees to the plan!
You’ll need to explain how you know the person, and it is best if you can prove your relationship, through birth or marriage certificates when possible. For instance, if you are trying to get your full sister and her children released on bond, you may send a copy of your birth certificate. If your sister has her birth certificate with her, you can prove that you have the same mother or father or both the parents. You will not always have proof, but when you do, show it. If you are not a “blood” relative but a close friend, explain your relationship: how you got to know the person (by being neighbors? Through work? An ex-spouse?) and add anything special about your relationship (are you co-madres? Is one of you the godmother of the other’s child?) Say how long you have known the person and, if you’ve been living in the U.S. and your friend has been living in Central American, explain
YOUR HOME. You will need to show that you have a fixed place to live: an apartment you rent or a house you are buying or already own. You can prove where you live with a lease, a mortgage agreement, utility bills mailed to you at the address. The longer you have lived in the same place, the better. If your driver’s license does not match your current address, you’ll need to explain why (maybe you JUST moved into your house? But better to have all your documents match!) You can also submit letters or affidavits from neighbors, but the neighbors are also going to need to identify themselves as U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents of the U.S. Sometimes I also include a photograph or set of photographs of the apartment or house to show that there is enough room, if the photographs are helpful.
YOUR FINANCES. You will need to show that you are financially able to support your household – including the loved ones you are asking the judge to release to live with you – at a certain level. This level is determined by the annual U.S. federal poverty line: http://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/files/form/i-864p.pdf Say you live with your partner and three children; that means your current household is five people. You are offering and asking to take in your sister and her two children. Your total household would be eight people in that case. The judge will want to see that you have an annual income of $50,075. You can prove your income through your tax returns for last year, or through your pay stubs, or both. While you do not have to show that you, yourself, make that much, the total household income has to total $50,075, and you should have a letter from everyone whose income you’re counting showing that each person agrees to help out the family. Also, each person whose income you are counting needs to be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident.
COMMUNITY TIES. The judge can set a higher or lower bond depending how strong the person’s ties are to the community. We are trying to prove to the judge that the person’s connections to the people and place they are going are strong, so that they will not just pick up and move somewhere else. So if there are other people from your town in Guatemala or Honduras or El Salvador that your friend or relative knows, if you belong to a church of the same denomination that your family member belonged to at home, or if there are other connections, please describe these. It sometimes helps, as well, if you describe YOUR ties to this community. The judge wants to release people to a place that they will stay, and the deeper your and their connections to a community, the more likely your family member or friend will be released, and the lower the bond might be.
NOTARIZED OR SWORN UNDER PENALTY OF PERJURY. If you are able to take your letter to be notarized, that’s the best. If not, you should at least sign your letter with these words: “I swear under penalty of perjury that the foregoing statement is true and correct.”