Non-Profit Raising Funds To Post Bond For Mt. Pleasant Detainees

May 22, 2018

An Iowa non-profit organization is trying to pay for the release of all 32 individuals detained in an immigration raid in Mount Pleasant. By getting them out of detention centers, organizers behind the Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project say those arrested will have a much better chance of presenting their case in court.

Credit Douglas Palmer via flickr creative commons / https://www.flickr.com/photos/diacritical/4628043944/

Some of those arrested in the raid on the Midwest Precast Concrete plant in eastern Iowa earlier this month have been able to post bond and get out of detention. But most are still struggling to pay the $10,000 each that courts have requested.

The Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project hopes to pick up those costs for them. The group's legal director Julia Zalenski said it's very difficult to retain an attorney and build a case from behind bars.

"Because it's extremely difficult to get an attorney if you're in custody. It's extremely difficult to get the kind of evidence you need," Zalenski said, "aside from the intense strain that separation from family and loss of income and things like that can put on detainees."

A bond is essentially a kind of legal collateral held by the court to ensure that if someone is released from law enforcement custody, they'll return for future court dates. Zalenski said posting bond does not mean defendants will be able to dodge punishment or somehow sidestep the charges against them. But she said it does create a more even playing field across economic classes.

“Really we’re just trying to facilitate access. And make sure that poor people who are taken into immigration court do not get more unfavorable outcomes than people who have financial resources. So that’s really what this is all about,” she said.

According to a University of Pennsylvania analysis of over 1.2 million deportation cases, only 14 percent of detainees in those cases had legal representation. Reporting from the Los Angeles Times found detainees held in rural areas face even greater barriers to getting legal representation. Unlike in the criminal justice system, those facing immigration charges do not have a guaranteed right to free legal counsel. 

"Really we're just trying to facilitate access. And make sure that poor people who are taken into immigration court do not get more unfavorable outcomes than people who have financial resources." - Julia Zalenski, Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project

Detentions can have a marked impact on the families of those being held. With immigration judges across the country struggling to keep up with caseloads, it may take years before a defendant has a final ruling.

Group co-founder Natalia Espina said getting out of detention means people can help support their families while their case plays out.

“Just being able to do that from your home and return to your family, minimalize trauma to kids, minimize separation of families…all of those moving pieces. It makes a huge difference to be able to assist somebody to get out on bond,” Espina said.

In the days since the raid, the group has raised around $60,000, more than they raised all last year. Espina said she sees the response from the community as a silver lining.

"That's really been kind of the really powerful underlining message is we have a lot of people in Iowa, and not just Mount Pleasant, but in surrounding communities and I think all over the nation that are looking," Espina said. "And people want to be able to help, whether it's just dropping off food donations...whether it's trying to figure out what sort of basic needs and supplies women and children are going to need."

The Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project plans to begin posting bonds for detainees after a round of bond redetermination hearings scheduled to start next week. At these hearings, judges could decide to reduce the amount a detainee would have to pay, or even release them without bond to prepare for future court dates.