Immigrant bond funds launch in Virginia amid growing ICE detentions

(Georgia Geen /VCU Capital News Service)

By Georgia Geen/Capital News Service

When Eva Solano returned home after spending 28 days in immigration detention, she knew she wasn’t going to go back to her normal life and pretend nothing had happened.

“I told my lawyer, ‘I need to do something,’” Solano said. “It’s not about me. I’m the lucky one.”

Solano joined the board of the Cville Immigrant Bond Fund, which launched in May, a few months after leaving the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, commonly known as ICE, detention facility in Caroline County. Her boss had put forward $6,000 to bail her out, and coworkers raised an additional $4,000 in support.

At that point, there wasn’t a bond or legal defense fund that could help Solano in Virginia. And while that’s changed with the launch of the Cville Fund and Santos en Virginia — which started in July and eventually hopes to serve the entire state — advocates say many people still are unable to afford bail or legal expenses.

“We haven’t begun to meet the need,” said Priscilla Mendenhall, executive director of the Cville Fund, which serves people in Charlottesville and Albemarle and Nelson counties. “But a lot of it is need that doesn’t even emerge because people are too afraid to come forward, too afraid to even fight their cases.”

According to a Syracuse University database, 982 people were in ICE detention in Virginia as of December, the most recent month with available data. About a third of those people — the largest individual category — had never been convicted of a crime. Each month that data was collected, the number of detainees increased. In September 2016, the first month when data was collected, there were 672 people in detention, and about 14% had no criminal convictions. About the same proportion were convicted of a DUI.

The same database reports that as of August, the median bond granted in a hearing in Virginia was $7,000. Unlike other bonds, ICE bonds have to be paid all at once, Mendenhall said.

“If they can’t get bonded out, they’re stuck in detention,” Mendenhall said. “If they’re stuck in detention, it’s much harder for them to actually work with an attorney.”

Mendenhall said Cville’s fundraising has gone well, but there’s an ongoing need to raise more money.

Leonina Arismendi, the co-founder of Santos en Virginia, said 10 people make up the $100,000 in requests that the organization has received thus far.

“So whatever scale of fundraising we thought we were going to be doing,” said Lana Heath de Martínez, the other co-founder, as Arismendi continued, “it just blew our minds, how much was needed so soon.”

The group has gone back to the drawing board to figure out a new fundraising plan, Arismendi said. They’re looking into creative ways to raise money, such as launching music and art events and reaching out to restaurants owners about hosting a fundraising event.

“We’re just looking at the most creative ways to find the money we need, and not to find it once, but to find it constantly,” Arismendi said, “because these requests keep coming.”