On Saturday, 11/15, ICE offered approximately 30 women with children under the age of 3 years old bonds of $3,000 or less. They informed the individuals of the bond orally, instructed them to notify their family members, and told them to have their family members pay on Monday morning and they could finally be released. Some of these women who were promised release have been detained in the facility for months. On Monday morning, 2 women were lucky enough to have family members pay their bonds first thing. These two women were able to leave Artesia. Sometime around mid-morning on Monday however, ICE Headquarters changed their minds. Due to a “blanket change in policy,” they sent orders for ICE officers to revoke every single bond that had been offered over the weekend. These 28-odd women whose bonds were revoked are still in Artesia, with no record of ever being offered a bond.
Instead, these women will have to have a hearing in front of a judge to determine their bond against an adversarial ICE attorney. I had a bond hearing for one of these women today. When I met with her in the morning and told her the purpose of the hearing today, she was confused. As she rocked her child in her arms, she kept insisting “but ICE already offered me a bond of $3,000. My family keeps trying to pay it, but it’s not showing up yet, so they can’t.” I had to inform her that this offer had been withdrawn, without being able to provide any explanation as to why. The only condolence I was able to offer was that the woman had a strong argument justifying her release (strong family ties in the US, a positive credible fear determination, no criminal history, etc.), and we would hope for the judge to set a bond of $3,000 or less.
The Judge that presided over this hearing is absolutely nothing like the Judge that we had seen yesterday. First of all, he likes to conduct his own direct examination before allowing the attorneys to ask questions. This includes asking question after question regarding how the woman and her children had been transported to the United States, whether or not they had paid a coyote, and whether or not they travelled with other individuals. This is of course all relevant to determine if this woman is a “national security threat” (according to ICE and this particular Judge). ICE attorneys assert that even women who have no criminal history and who are leaving their countries of origin not to seek employment but to flee from extreme domestic violence and sexual abuse, pose a national security threat. I felt no choice but to object to the Judge and “state our position on the record” that this information was not relevant to a bond, but received only a condescending smile. The Judge had no problem continuing with this line of questioning.
The real tragedy of the hearing, however, was not the attitude of the Judge, although that was a disappointment-it was the ICE attorney’s treatment of the woman sitting next to me, holding her child in her arms, terrified, and not fully understanding what was happening (the only part of immigration proceedings that are translated to English are questions directed towards the respondent- everything else said by the judges and attorneys remains a mystery to the person in the hearing). This particular woman had left one of her children behind in El Salvador. She only had so much money, and the coyote told her that she could only bring one child. She felt not choice but to leave her four year old daughter in the care of her parents, and bring her two year old son. Earlier that morning, I could feel the shame, guilt, and sadness that consumed her whenever she mentioned her daughter.
The ICE attorney utilized this mother’s pain and tragedy as a way to undermine her credibility, asylum claim, and law-abiding nature all at once. After pointing out multiple times that the woman had left her daughter behind, the ICE attorney asked “do you plan to bring your daughter to the United States?” The woman responded, “my plan is to gain legal status, and then bring my daughter here” (a perfect response). “But what if you can’t get papers? Will you go back to El Salvador?” “No, I can’t go back to El Salvador-I’ll be killed if I return” “But not even to be with your own daughter who you left behind?” “Well, if I had to I guess I would, but if there was any other option then I would bring her here.” “What is any other option?” “If I had papers.” “But what if you didn’t have papers? You wouldn’t bring her here anyways, you would just leave her behind in Honduras? Don’t you love her?” The woman sitting next to me began to sob and completely fell apart, reliving the shame and guilt she obviously felt for leaving her little girl behind and exclaimed, “how could I not bring her here? How could I just leave her there in El Salvador, I couldn’t, I would have to bring her here, I would do anything for her, I would have to.”
Objecting to this line of questioning is futile. At the end, the judge stated in his decision that this was a “national security matter” because the woman had stayed in a house with 15 other people for one night in Mexico, making this part of the “mass migration directly leading to the national security threat.” He also stated that he found she was “willing to ignore US immigration laws, as she stated she would bring her daughter here even if she didn’t get status.” He gave her a $5,000 bond. Her family had barely been able to scrape together $3,000. She doesn’t know when she and her son will be able to get out.
This is just one example of the frustrations that the women in Artesia face on a daily basis. There is no transparency in the decisions that ICE makes- questions are not answered, and explanations do not exist. Furthermore, this Judge has no problem playing along with their agenda. The entire process is infuriating. It made me feel completely helpless, and as if our efforts were arbitrary- the Judge was going to do what he wanted to do, no matter what. I know that without our advocacy, this woman probably would have had an even higher bond, and I’m sure we did help with her legal case. But in a way, I felt that the more important role that I was playing during that hearing was something different. This woman had someone to sit next to her, to fight for her when the questions were getting too intense; she had someone to touch her arm when she started to cry; she had someone to explain, as well as they could, what the hell had just happened.