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Stiffer bonds keeping some migrant families apart longer

On this edition for Saturday, June 30, people protest President Trump’s immigration policies across the country, and how stiffer bonds are making it harder for migrant families to reunite. Also, Stockton, California is fighting income inequality to secure the city’s financial status. Lisa Desjardins anchors from New York.

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  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Despite court orders it is not yet clear how the United States is going to reunite families separated at the border. Tonight, we bring you a NewsHour report on an overlooked issue what appears to be a change in the immigration process that is keeping some families apart longer. It is the issue of bonds. Those are monetary amounts determined at each judge's discretion. Asylum seekers and other undocumented immigrants must pay that in full before they can be released. Under the Obama administration, immigration courts often waived or set relatively low amounts for these bonds releasing people to await their hearings. Republicans refer to that as 'catch and release.' Now, immigration attorneys say there is a dramatic increase in the number and cost of those bonds and the likelihood that those in detention will remain there longer. Daniel Bush just returned from the southern border after days of uncovering and reporting on this story. He joins me now. Let's just start with the basics here. What exactly has changed about these bonds?

  • DANIEL BUSH:

    Under the Obama administration, Department of Homeland Security and immigration judges were advised to use their discretion in setting bond. The minimum is $1500. Often, as you said, those bonds were set at those levels are a little bit higher often upwards, sometimes of $7,500. But the change that we're seeing now and that a lot of immigration attorneys told me that their clients are being set with bonds of $10,000 or more. I spoke with one attorney who said it's not uncommon to see bonds of up to $25,000 and if they can't pay that money then they're going to be in detention.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Do you know of any of these cases involve some of these parents who've been separated from their children and if they can't afford to pay this bond, how long will they be in detention waiting for their hearing?

  • DANIEL BUSH:

    So, I am aware of some cases where that's happened. I spoke with one lawyer who related a story of her client, a mother who was detained and separated from her parents, from her children, excuse me, entering the country. This was back in March. The children, who are aged four and 10 were sent into custody under one federal agency, put into foster homes and eventually released to relatives. The mother, however, was given a $12,500 bond and was unable to pay that and as of just two or three days ago, was still in detention while her lawyer and Immigrant Legal Aid groups were trying to come up with the money. I spoke with another lawyer who said that her client was separated from her two-year-old son and in that case, the mother was given a $9,000 bond and is also in detention because she was unable to pay.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    So we know those cases, months. What's the average for for a case to resolve?

  • DANIEL BUSH:

    If you get to this point in the process and you have been detained and the government has decided do you have credible fear under the law that means that you have a legitimate claim to asylum because you're fleeing danger or another hardship in your home country you become eligible for bond. And that means that while the government is prosecuting your case you can be released and live in the United States while the government decides whether to let you stay here legally or to deport you. The average asylum case right now, because of the massive backlog, a backlog that dates back prior to the Trump administration is more than 700 days. So often cases, immigrants are waiting months and sometimes even years in detention, while these asylum cases play out.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Let's talk about the system more broadly. I think when people think about these immigration courts they may have the idea of what we see on TV, something like 'Law and Order,' a judge, both sides represented by attorneys. You've spent time in these courts, that's not really what's happening with these migrants. Can you explain?

  • DANIEL BUSH:

    So the rights that immigrants have in the immigration court system are pretty different from the rest of our justice system here in the U.S. In criminal court. For example, a defendant has a right to an attorney and the government is required to provide them with one if they can't pay for it themselves. In immigration court, which are civil proceedings, immigrants also have a right to an attorney but the government is not required to provide one for them if they can't pay for it. So what happens is that immigrants who can't pay for an attorney or who can't find an attorney to represent them for free, go unrepresented. And as you said, I was able to observe bond hearings and other immigrant court hearings in Texas last week in three different courts and the vast majority of the immigrants who came before judges were not represented, did not have lawyers.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    What did the Department of Justice say about this or did they want this system be in place as deterrents? Do they say that this system is appointed change?

  • DANIEL BUSH:

    So I reached out to the Department of Justice, also the Department of Homeland Security. The Department of Homeland Security told me that bond policy has not changed under former President Obama and now President Trump. Of course that contradicts what the attorneys are saying on the ground, which is that bonds are going up in excess of $10,000. The Department of Justice said that they're not required to record the average bond amount. So it's unclear because we don't have those statistics how high these bonds are across the board. Both the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security say that this policy which has been in place for a while is an important part of the process to ensure that immigrants who have been detained remain in the system while their cases are being processed.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    And one last question you weren't just in immigration courts on our side of the border. You were also on the Mexican side of the border, talking to people who are waiting to file for asylum, families. Do they know about this bond policy?

  • DANIEL BUSH:

    So I spoke to a group of asylum seekers on the bridge, one of the legal entry points in Laredo and they were waiting on the Mexican side of the border to enter the United States and for the most part, these were families with young children with their suitcases camped out on a bridge, sometimes for hours and often days waiting for entry. They were not aware of these policies. They were not aware that under President Trump their chances of being detained and not released were significantly higher than they were under Obama. They were not aware that once they were in detention the principal way to get out is this bond process and that although the minimum is $1500 we're now seeing bonds that are significantly higher. So they're not aware.

  • LISA DESJARDINS:

    Daniel Bush important reporting thank you for joining us.

  • DANIEL BUSH:

    Thank you Lisa.

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