Pedro Cervantez had been in the immigrant detention facility in Aurora for three months when he finally received some good news: A group of donors from Loveland had agreed to pay the $5,000 bond to get him out of detention. "I was very, very happy," Cervantez says.
In April 2019, Cervantez became the first recipient of a grant from the Immigrant Freedom Fund, a new program that helps bond out immigrant detainees at the GEO Group-operated facility. To date, the bond fund has paid out $37,000 to help ten individuals, some of whom are longer-term residents, like Cervantez, while others are newly arrived asylum seekers.
"There's no reason for them to be incarcerated," says Francey Liefert, the head of the fund. "It's just a punishment for wanting to have a better life in our country."
Like the criminal court system, the immigration legal system allows individuals to bond out of detention. The 1,300-plus detainees who are at the Aurora facility at any given time often can't afford to pay their bond, especially those without roots in the U.S., meaning they spend months, if not longer, at the facility. Approximately 30 percent of detainees who are released from the Aurora detention facility bond out, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The lowest amount for an immigration bond is $1,500. But in more recent years, activists say, immigration judges have been setting higher rates.
"We've been seeing trends that bonds have been set higher recently as a deterrent for people to come to the U.S.," says Sarah Jackson, the head of Casa de Paz, a local organization that visits detainees at the Aurora facility and provides them shelter and travel assistance when they're released.
"For asylum seekers in Colorado, we see $7,500 as a typical bond amount for somebody who is lacking significant ties to the community and has no criminal history," says Laura Lunn, an attorney who manages the immigrant detention program at the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN).
Liefert began looking into helping detained immigrants after news broke in 2018 that children were being separated from their parents as part of the Trump administration's zero-tolerance policy, and heard about the need for a bond fund from Lunn of RMIAN.
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"Our assumption was that by bonding out one person at a time, we could make a difference in each person’s life," says Liefert. "Soon we realized that we were making a difference not only in the lives of each person that we bonded out, but in the lives of their families and communities."
Cervantez, who is originally from Mexico, is now back home with his family in Utah and is still fighting to avoid deportation for overstaying his visa. The criminal charges that originally led the father of four U.S.-citizen children to land on ICE's radar were eventually dropped. He says he's working to win his immigration case so that he can continue to take care of his family in the U.S.
"I need to stay with my kids because I love them," Cervantez says.