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Teenager Detained In Immigration Raids Must Pay ‘Outrageous’ Bail Bond To Be Released

Supporters of 19-year-old Wildin Acosta participate in a rally in Durham, N.C., Thursday, March 24, 2016. Supporters are calling on federal immigration officials to release Acosta and other detained teenagers who came to the U.S. as unaccompanied children. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) CREDIT: AP PHOTO/GERRY BROOME
Supporters of 19-year-old Wildin Acosta participate in a rally in Durham, N.C., Thursday, March 24, 2016. Supporters are calling on federal immigration officials to release Acosta and other detained teenagers who came to the U.S. as unaccompanied children. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) CREDIT: AP PHOTO/GERRY BROOME

A teenager swept up in a nationwide immigration raid in January is being required to pay a $30,000 bail bond in order to be released from detention — leaving his family and community scrambling to find the funds for what they say is a “highly disproportionate and unnecessary” punishment.

On Monday, an immigration judge at the Stewart Immigration Court in Georgia — a court notorious for denying 95 percent of all asylum claims — allowed Yefri Sorto-Hernandez to be released from detention on bond. But advocates say it will be impossible for Sorto-Hernandez’s low-income family to pay the high bond price.

$30,000 dollar bond is outrageous and disproportionate amount for anyone to pay.

“$30,000 dollar bond is outrageous and disproportionate amount for anyone to pay, let alone a high school teenager and his low-income family,” Julie Yihong Mao, the Enforcement Fellow at the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, told ThinkProgress. “High bond effectively means no bond particularly for low-income communities. Yefri has already been detained for more than 6 months, with this high bond amount, he faces the scary prospect of a long indefinite incarceration.”

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Nearly six months ago, Sorto-Hernandez was waiting at a school bus stop in Charlotte, North Carolina when two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents picked him up for deportation proceedings. Ever since, he’s been held at the Lumpkin Detention Center in Georgia, hoping to get out so that he can go back to school.

ICE Agents Are Arresting Teens On Their Way To SchoolImmigration by CREDIT: Yefri Sorto-Hernandez Eighteen-year-old Yefri Sorto-Hernandez was waiting at a school bus stop…thinkprogress.orgImmigration officials generally set the bond price based on factors like whether an immigrant could be a flight risk, poses a public safety threat, has been deported previously, or has had a long criminal history. Sorto-Hernandez does not fit into any of those categories.

“For someone like Yefri, who’s a teenage high school student with strong family and community support, I would expect him to be the perfect candidate for release,” Mao said via email.

But Sorto-Hernandez — who came to the U.S. after fleeing gang violence in El Salvador, but who lost his asylum case and was ordered deported last year — is one of the targets of a nationwide deportation effort by the Obama administration.

Nearly 47,000 unaccompanied children from Latin America showed up at the southern U.S. border in 2014, prompting the U.S. government to take on an aggressive deterrence strategy aimed at stemming more border crossers. That’s why, at the beginning of the year, the Department of Homeland Security began a series of controversial immigration operations targeting recent border crossers who may have lost their asylum or immigration court cases.

I would expect him to be the perfect candidate for release.

Sorto-Hernandez was one of six North Carolina immigrant teens who was arrested by ICE this year. Their arrests sent shockwaves through their schools, triggering absences and phantom illnesses by other students afraid that they, too, would become deportation targets.

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“The disproportionately high bond amount is reason for serious concern that DHS is making an example out of Yefri and other youth in the name of an immoral and ineffective policy of deterrence,” Mao said.

High bail bond prices — once an unusual occurrence reserved for people with long criminal records — have become a common issue facing detained border crossers without criminal records. Some U.S. officials argue that high bail bond prices are necessary to deter future border crossers from making the journey into the United States. The strategy has been used since 2003 when former Attorney General John Ashcroft argued against granting bond to a Haitian immigrant because he claimed it would encourage future illegal entries.

In May 2015, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency announced a policy that it would discontinue using general deterrence in its detention decisions, but that has not stopped immigration judges from setting bail bond prices beyond what individuals can pay. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a class-action lawsuit in April challenging the federal government’s policy of setting bonds for immigrants “without regard to a noncitizen’s financial resources, which has resulted in the incarceration of individuals merely because they are poor.” This results in people who can leave on a cash bond, but cannot pay it and instead “remain detained for prolonged periods while their immigration cases are pending.”

Migrant Woman Attempted Suicide Minutes After Realizing She Can’t Afford Her Own ReleaseImmigration by CREDIT: AP Photo/Juan Carlos Llorca, File Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials are set to…thinkprogress.org“It’s deterrence through punitive incarceration,” Mao said. “Detainees often suffer harsh detention conditions, lack of access to counsel and isolation from family and support networks, amongst other things in jail. Therefore, the ability to obtain a reasonable bond and therefore get out of detention means the difference between loosing [sic] and winning your case.”

Sorto-Hernandez has strong community backing, so it may be possible that his family can gather together the funds necessary through his GoFundMe site. But his court case also speaks to a larger issue involving the asylum process at the Stewart Immigration Court. The federal immigration courts in Georgia have some of the highest asylum denial rates for asylum applicants in the country, according to U.S. Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review’s Fiscal Year 2015 Statistics Yearbook. In the past year, Atlanta’s immigration judges approved five asylum cases, while denying 239 cases, making their approval rate two percent. Stewart’s immigration judges approved six asylum cases, while denying 112 cases, making their approval rate a measly 5 percent.

“For the Obama administration, Stewart is the perfect deportation factory for Central American asylum seekers — where ICE aggressive arrests immigrants and the Judges rubber stamp its actions,” Mao said.