A Syracuse University study revealed that the Hartford Immigration Court on average sets the highest bonds in the nation for undocumented immigrants facing deportation proceedings. At $15,000, it’s twice the national average.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents set an initial bond when an undocumented immigrant is first detained. The detainee can then appeal to an immigration judge who can lower it. But that judge can also keep it the same, or even raise it.
The Hartford Immigration Court is under the jurisdiction of the federal Justice Department’s Executive Office For Immigration Review.
A spokesman told Connecticut Public Radio that the office “employs immigration judges who act independently in deciding the matters before them.”
Alex Meyerovich, an immigration attorney at the M.C. Law Group, said that depending on how judges lean politically, that can be a big problem for those hoping to make bond.
“If you’re looking at bonds set by liberal judges in let’s say New York—New York City—they could be $1,500,” Meyerovich said. “If you move to a more conservative jurisdiction—a good example: Connecticut is a fairly conservative jurisdiction -- the same bond could be as high as $15,000.”
Sue Long, the co-director of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, authored the study. Her unit found -- through examining records of court proceedings -- that Hartford and an immigration court in Tacoma, Washington had the highest average in the nation.
“If a bond’s not set than the person doesn’t even have an opportunity to post bond and be released into the community,” Long said.
That’s because there’s no guarantee that once detained, ICE will actually transfer an undocumented immigrant to his or her bond hearing.
John Mohan, an ICE spokesman, said that’s determined on a case-by-case basis.
“As a general rule, immigration bonds serve as a mechanism to encourage aliens to appear in immigration court; they are not punitive,” Mohan said. “Bond decisions are based on an alien’s flight risk, and each case is reviewed individually, taking into account factors like immigration history, criminal history, and community ties.”
ICE detainees with proceedings in Hartford aren’t even housed in Connecticut. They’re likely to be sent to the nearest facility in Greenfield, Massachusetts.
As to why the Hartford Immigration Court’s bonds are so high, Long said there’s no exact reason why but she did say that the research shows a strong correlation to a particular judge’s discretion.
“We have shown systematically in the actual outcome of asylum cases, for example, wide disparities just depending on which judge you are assigned to hear the case,” Long said.
Considering the reality of the TRAC study and the challenges detained migrants face, immigration attorney Alex Meyorovich said he always shares the following advice with his clients.
“You might be able to afford me to represent you in immigration hearings and immigrations proceedings, but you better make sure you have at least $10,000-$15,000 to be able to post a bond,” Meyerovich said.
Meyerovich said he can file a subsequent motion to appeal the bond if things don’t go in favor of his client, but with conservative immigration judges, he said the evidence that a reduction is warranted has to be overwhelming.