A new bond fund created through a collaboration of New York City community organizations, the New York Immigrant Freedom Fund (NYIFF), has freed more than 300 immigrant New Yorkers from detention in less than a year of operation. NYIFF, which began in November 2018, has already disbursed $2.3 million to keep immigrants with their loved ones.
NYIFF is a program of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund that pays bonds for immigrants who cannot afford it themselves. The fund’s advisory council includes African Communities Together, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Families for Freedom, Immigrant Defense Project, Make the Road New York, and the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project.
Founded on the belief that no one should be locked up because of their immigration status, NYIFF’s work is particularly urgent because detention is at an all-time high under this federal administration, and bond amounts have grown astronomically. The average bond in immigration court is $7500—up 50% from just five years ago.
“The Trump administration is sending unprecedented numbers of immigrants into detention facilities right here in the New York area,” said Lee Wang, Program Director of the New York Immigrant Freedom Fund. “The New York Immigrant Freedom Fund is a critical life line for immigrant New Yorkers who would otherwise face the awful choice of having to remain in jail while they face deportation or turn to a predatory bond company in order to see their families again.”
NYIFF focuses on assisting New Yorkers who are arrested and detained by ICE. The fund receives applications from attorneys, community organizers and family members with loved ones who are detained. It is a new initiative of the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, an organization that is committed to challenging the racism, inequality, and injustice of a criminal legal system and immigration and deportation regime that disproportionately target and harm low-income communities of color.
“With the Trump Administration doing everything it can to lock immigrants in cages and overwhelm immigration courts, it is not enough to provide our neighbors with access to legal services,” said City Council Member and Chair of the Committee on Immigration, Carlos Menchaca. “We have to free them so they can pursue their legal options without losing their jobs or being separated from their families. That means making it easier for immigrants to access bail. I’m proud to have led the charge in the Council to provide initial funding for the City’s first immigrant-focused bail fund.”
“Low-income immigrants ensnared in the out-of-control deportation machine should not have to choose between falling into debt or spending years in detention,” said Luba Cortes, Immigrant Defense Coordinator at Make the Road New York and Advisory Council Chair of the New York Immigrant Freedom Fund (NYIFF). “The NYIFF seeks to mitigate the damage caused by detention, ensuring that immigrant New Yorkers have access to bond. Make the Road New York applauds this initiative, which has already supported many of our members and shows the power of community organizations coming together to fight for our communities.”
“It’s disturbing how many immigrants are forced to choose between the horrors of I.C.E. detention and the outrageous conditions set by commercial bond funds,” said Surveillance Technology Oversight Project Executive Director Albert Fox Cahn. “Many of these bond profiteers not only force clients to wear GPS tracking devices, but they even charge a ‘rental fee’ for their electronic shackles.”
“The administration has been using the 1996 immigration laws and its massive deportation machine to lock up unprecedented numbers of immigrants, said Benita Jain, Supervising Attorney at the Immigrant Defense Project. “The New York Immigrant Freedom Fund is enabling more New Yorkers to fight their deportation cases from a place of freedom instead of behind bars.”
“From immigration detention to local jail, incarceration is destroying our communities but we have an opportunity to take steps towards ending caging by supporting our people’s release,” said Benjamin Ndugga-Kabuye, Research and Advocacy Manager at Black Alliance for Just Immigration.
“As a NYC based membership-led organization by people directly impacted by both the criminal punishment and immigration systems, Families for Freedom’s members know that freedom is a must,” said Violeta Múnera, Deputy Director of Families for Freedom. “For many families dealing with deportation, access to financial resources are scarce due to a system intentionally designed to commodify and exploit non-citizens. Funds like NYIFF, are an invaluable tool in the increasingly hard and long fight towards freedom. By allowing people to rejoin with loved ones to continue their fight on the outside, we are increasing their chances of success on their immigration cases, and sparing them from being subjected to inhumane conditions on the inside. NYIFF, as a community effort, is a step towards imagining solutions that concretely protect and support immigrant communities.”
Numerous studies show that detention simply isn’t necessary to getting people to show up to court. Even without any interventions, 86 percent of immigrants who pay bonds return to court on their own. And studies show that, if you add basic supports like calls to remind people of their court dates and legal representation more than 95 percent of people return to court.
Instructions on how to apply to the New York Immigrant Freedom Fund can be found at www.nyimmigrantfreedom.org