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Episode 57

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Sign Here

Many migrants awaiting asylum hearings in the US have a difficult choice: they can stay in detention as their case makes its way through the system, or they can pay an impossibly expensive bond. For those who choose to pay, many use the services of a company which promotes itself as pro-immigrant, but the truth is much more complicated.

You can read a Spanish transcript of the episode.

Or you can also read an English translation.

“Sign Here” is the first collaborative project between Radio Ambulante and Univision Noticias. The episode was produced by Silvia Viñas and the story was reported by Alejandro Fernández and Inti Pacheco, Univision Data reporters.

This video, produced by Univision, is a good introduction to the story

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Transcript

Translated by Daniel Trujillo

[Daniel Alarcón, host]: Thanks for listening to Radio Ambulante. Before we start, we want to ask you for a favor. If you like the show, please rate us on Apple Podcasts. And if you have time, please also write a review. This helps other people discover about Radio Ambulante. Thank you.  

Welcome to Radio Ambulante, from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.

[Alejandro Fernández]: We came across bail bonds when we started analyzing how likely detained immigrants were to be granted asylum.

[Daniel]: And that’s Alejandro Fernández, investigative journalist at Univisión. Alejandro and his colleague…

[Inti Pacheco]: My name is Inti Pacheco…

[Daniel]: analyzed data from asylum requests, and realized that the likelihood that an immigrant will be granted asylum depends largely on the court and the judge.

And once they realized how the system works -and how arbitrary it is-, Inti and Alejandro decided to dig deeper. Because…

[Alejandro]: The judges and the courts also make other decisions. One of them is setting bail.

[Daniel]: There are different kinds of bail, depending on the case. Either a judge or an asylum officer can set the amount. It may be for an immigrant detained without documents, or trying to cross the border, or for someone with unpaid tickets, or for someone without a driver’s license…

But after going through the data they got from the Department of Justice, Inti and Alejandro realized the bail system is as arbitrary as the asylum system.

Let’s just take this example: if you are detained in Chicago, you are going to pay an average of $5000 dollars. But if you are detained in Los Angeles, you will pay an average of $17.000.

Listen closely. You can be detained for the exact same thing –nothing more, nothing less–, but in Los Angeles, your bail could be three times higher.

So Inti and Alejandro then asked themselves a question:

[Alejandro]: How is this affecting the finances of immigrant families?

[Daniel]: And as they tried to answer that question, they stumbled upon something they did not expect.

Here’s our editor, Silvia Viñas.

[Silvia Viñas, editor]: In order to understand how bails affect immigrants, Inti and Alejandro decided to run a public survey of sorts. They divulged a form their readers could easily fill out online.

[Alejandro]: And we found many people agreed to share their stories.

[Woman 1]: They had set bail for him at $15.000.

[Man 1]: I was determined to tell him to deport me, because there was no way I could pay that much money.

[Woman 2]: I told him: “There’s no way. Nothing can be done, because I don’t have the money”. And it really is hard to get that much money.

[Alejandro]: In about five days we got 168 stories from very kind people who gave us their email addresses and phone numbers to call them.

[Woman 3]: I already was in debt for $8,500 dollars because I’d borrowed money to leave my country.

[Alejandro]: And we saw the things people do, from putting their truck up as collateral…

[Man 2]: We started borrowing money from our friends, our relatives… we had to pawn the deed to our truck…

[Alejandro]: or even their house. They also run raffles. Some go as far as getting loans outside the United States.

[Woman 4]: My mom and my sister got a loan in Guatemala…

[Inti]: Someone wrote in these forms: “You forgot to say something: There is this company called Libre by Nexus”.

[Woman 1]: It’s called Libre by Nexus.

[Man 3]: I was told about this program called Nexus.

[Woman 5]: I saw that program that lends people money, that Nexus.

(SOUNDBITE FROM ADVERTISEMENT)

[Narrator]: We specialize in helping people detained by immigration post their bail, no matter where they come from or what mistakes they have made…

[Inti]: What they offer is to pay the person’s bail. In exchange, the immigrant or detainee must wear an ankle monitor, and pay a monthly fee until their process is resolved.

(SOUNDBITE FROM ADVERTISEMENT)

[Narrator]: We are the only company in the United States that helps people post their bail with every guarantee, because we understand the pain you and your detained loved one go through. Call today and reunite your family tomorrow…

[Silvia]: Libre by Nexus is a subsidiary of Nexus Services. It was established in 2012, and it is a big company. Its headquarters are in Virginia, but according to the Washington Post it has 27 offices in the United States, and one in El Salvador, generating $30 million dollars a year.

And the founder, the face behind Nexus Services…

(SOUNDBITE FROM YOUTUBE VIDEO)

[Michael Donovan]: Hi, I’m Mike Donovan, CEO of Nexus Services. This message is for all our Libre by Nexus clients….

[Inti]: It is a man by the name of Michael Donovan.

[Alejandro]: He sounds like a car salesman, like one of those people who is always selling something.

(SOUNDBITE FROM YOUTUBE VIDEO)

[Michael Donovan]: I’m not a lawyer, but I’m sharing a message….

[Silvia]: Donovan became a Christian minister in 2010.

[Inti]: He is an ex-convict. He was sentenced for several fraud cases, spent many years in prison, and when he got out he became a lobbyist for bail bonds agencies, who post bail in criminal cases.

[Silvia]: Now, lobbyists exert political pressure to promote the interests of specific companies or groups. And here we must explain something that may sound a little tricky, but I promise it is important to understand how Libre by Nexus operates. Alejandro is going to help me.

Ok, about how these bail bonds agencies or dealers work…

[Alejandro]: If I had a problem with the law and a judge set bail for me, and I didn’t have money to post it, I could just pay between 10% and 20% of the total bail amount to these agencies. They could then post a bail bond for me, I walk free and then am in debt with the bail bonds agency or dealer.

[Silvia]: Pretty much like getting a loan. When Donovan got out of prison he started lobbying for these bail bonds agencies, because he had not been able to post his own $45.000 bail. And then he found a business niche: immigrants who could not post bail.

So then, what Libre by Nexus does is become the holder of the immigrant’s bail…

[Alejandro]: Libre by Nexus approaches several bonds services dealers and tells them: “I am responsible for this bail obligation. My client is an immigrant. I will pay collateral for the immigrant to get out”. So it is not really putting up all the capital, to say it that way.

[Silvia]: Libre by Nexus does not post the full amount of the bail –it’s the intermediary between the bail bond agency and the immigrant. It only pays the percentage required by the bail bonds agency. Finally, it is the immigrant who is liable for the debt.

[Alejandro]: Whether one wants it or not, one must admit that Libre by Nexus has a very smart strategy…

[Silvia]: Because these bail bonds dealers consider immigrants as risky clients, since asylum cases can drag on for years, and they fear defendants will not appear at their hearings. But according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse -TRAC for short-, 86% of defendants released on bail during fiscal year 2015 appeared at their hearings. Only 14% failed to appear.

In March 2017, Donovan told the Washington Post he, quote: “realized [he] needed to find the darkest place in American justice, where the most help was needed”.

And he found it in the dysfunctional American immigration system.

To understand the role of a company like Libre by Nexus, we must first talk about the system for a moment. When an immigrant is set bail and cannot afford it…

[Inti]: Well, they have to go through the whole process and determine whether they are granted asylum or getting deported. Add to that the time they spent detained, and that can take years.

[Silvia]: But if they post bail…

[Alejandro]: and if they follow all the rules and appear at their hearings and go through the whole process, that money is refunded in the end.

[Silvia]: However, as we said earlier, the bail amount can depend largely on the place and on the judge.

[Alejandro]: One would expect certain consistency between the courts. I can’t be so unlucky that if I am detained in Chicago my bail will be set at $5,000, but if instead I am detained in Los Angeles my bail will climb to $17,000.

[Inti]: And when you see these wildly different figures, you start suspecting that maybe with this they just do as they please.

[Silvia]: In some courts, bails are expected to be set at a certain amount. For instance:

[Inti]: We were at the Krome immigration court, right here in Miami. Every time a deal was struck between the State attorney and the legal council for the detainee, they always said $3,500. And that was that: they didn’t even discuss it.

[Silvia]: These are unspoken agreements. There is nothing in writing. And yet it is not always the same. Occasionally, there are significant disagreements among judges in the same court.

[Inti]: Then you wonder if there’s even a set of parameters. How are these amounts determined?

[Silvia]: Inti found a 2008 version of a document called the “Judges Benchbook”

[Inti]: These are the rules the judge must follow when making a decision.

[Silvia]: The Benchbook highlights 8 significant factors to set a bail amount.

[Inti]: The first states the person must have a permanent address in the United States. The second is how long the person has lived in the US.

[Silvia]: Then, if the person has family ties, their employment history, etc.

[Inti]: Then it says: “Less significant factors in a bond determination”. Among these less significant factors was the detainee’s ability to pay.

[Silvia]: Which means it is not a requirement, and actually not too important, to consider if the immigrant will be able to pay that $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000 bond…

[Inti]: We are talking a lot about amounts. And you have to think that an undocumented immigrant doesn’t have a work permit to begin with. Where is he going to find $5,000 or $17,000 to post bail?

[Silvia]: According to data from the Center for Immigration Studies, an undocumented person in the United States…

[Alejandro]: Can receive up to $13,961 dollars. In a full year.

[Silvia]: And taking from that amount the basic living expenses, such as food, rent, clothing, transportation…

[Alejandro]: When you set bail at $27,000 for a person, you are quite simply keeping them in prison for being poor.

[Silvia]: When a judge sets bail for a citizen in a criminal case, or before a criminal judge, they do take the citizen’s ability to pay into consideration.

And since late 2017, immigration judges in the courts of the Central District of California- serving 7 counties including Los Angeles- must consider immigrants’ ability to pay when setting bail for them.

This was achieved pursuant to a decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. You may have heard about this court, as it was here that President Trump’s executive order banning citizens from 7 Muslim countries to enter the United States was blocked.

[Inti]: I think it is important to mention that not all judges are bad. It is a problem of the system.

[Silvia]: As of right now, there are nearly 700.000 immigration cases in progress. According to data from Pew Research Center, arrests are on the rise.

From the beginning of the Trump administration in January of 2017, until the end of the fiscal year 2017 Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE -the agency that arrests and detains undocumented aliens in the United States- had detained over 110,000 people. That’s a 42% increase from the same period the previous year.

In February of 2018 Trump published his 2019 budget, and while there are cuts to many agencies, Trump proposes a budget increase of nearly 8% for Homeland Security, the agency in charge of -among other things- ICE and the Border Patrol.

That budget proposal includes Trump’s idea of hiring 2.000 additional ICE agents…

[Alejandro]: But only 75 new judges.

[Silvia]: And sure enough: more arrests means more cases that go to immigration judges. In late March 2018 the Justice Department imposed quotas on immigration judges in order to expedite decisions and reduce the amount of accumulated cases. Now, each judge will have to rule on at least 700 cases annually.

[Inti]: So, naturally, they lock people up every day and there are still just as many judges, who now have a quota of cases they must rule on. Obviously judges are not in a comfortable position either.

[Silvia]: And according to what Inti and Alejandro witnessed at Miami’s Krome court, judges are already ruling in a hurry.

[Inti]: Someone could be deported in 3 minutes or locked up for 2 years with a $2.000 bail.

[Daniel]: Meanwhile, there are 10 more detained immigrants, waiting for the judge to do the same with them.

That, then, is the context. When we return: What does Libre by Nexus offer to an immigrant in this situation?

 

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[Kelly McEvers, host of Embedded]: Hey, I’m Kelly McEvers, host of NPR’s Embedded and we got a new episode all about how Scott Pruitt ended up running the EPA. It’s a story about Pruitt’s life in the Southern Baptist Church, how he handle a mayor pollution case and why he sued the EPA 14 times. Just search for Embedded on the NPR One app or wherever you get your podcast.

[Linda Holmes] I’m Linda Holmes. There is more stuff to watch these days that you can ever get to. That’s why we make Pop Culture Happy Hour. Twice a week, we give you the lowdown on what’s worth your time and what’s not. Find Pop Culture Happy Hour on the NPR One app or wherever you get your podcast.

[Silvia]: Before we go back to the episode, we want to call on investigative reporters and investigative journalism centers and outlets in Latin America: we’re preparing for our next season and we want to produce more stories like this one. If you’re working on an investigation that you think would make a good Radio Ambulante story, we want to hear your pitches for collaborations. It has to be about an investigation you’ve already started; one with strong characters that tells a story. If you’re interested, please write to us at crónicas@radioambulante.org with the subject: Investigación. And help us spread the word. Thanks!

[Daniel]: We are back with Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón.

We were talking with Inti and Alejandro before the break about the bonds system and a company in particular.

Here’s Silvia again.

[Silvia]: The webpage of Libre by Nexus shows a picture of a Latin American family: parents in their 40s with their children in their arms. Everyone is dressed in white, smiling. Below them there is a message that reads: “Services for immigrants that reunite families”. Beside it there is a link to a statement by Michael Donovan, CEO of the company, in which he expresses his support for President Obama’s executive orders on immigration. The orders protect DREAMers and their parents against deportation, something Trump has been trying to repeal.

Now, below that, and in large letters, the site reads: “How Nexus helps”, followed by statements such as “We get your loved one out of jail”, “We do not require collateral”, “We invest in our clients and their families”. The message is crystal clear: Libre by Nexus is there to help. To reunite families.

[Inti]: But Libre by Nexus does not do this out of pure kindness. They charge the immigrant 20% of the bail amount upfront…

[Silvia]: Let’s say bail was set at $10,000. Libre by Nexus charges $2,000, that is, 20%.

[Inti]: Then they also make the immigrant wear a monitor on their ankle or wrist. There are some new wrist monitors now, but everyone we’ve spoken to have mentioned the ones for the ankles.

[Silvia]: It’s a GPS-equipped system, designed to always show where the “client” is, and ensure they appear at their immigration court hearings…

[Inti]: It is as big as an iPhone but as thick as 3. Stuck to your ankle. And what some have told us is that not only is it humiliating but also painful, physically.

[Silvia]: Inti and Alejandro have spoken to people who have reported the monitor burns their legs, that it has even irritated their flesh…

[Inti]: One person told us that when she went to the hospital, the doctors took the monitor off because it was hurting her too much.

[Silvia]: Meanwhile Libre by Nexus…

[Inti]: Charges the person a monthly fee of $420 for wearing the monitor, on top of an installation fee.

[Silvia]: Just for activating the monitor. They charge $460 for that.

[Inti]: Sometimes people are also charged $50, for the signature of the contract and things of that kind.

[Silvia]: So, let’s take stock here because there are many numbers already: if someone has a $10,000 bail and hires Libre by Nexus, they must pay almost $3,000 just for starters. After that it’s $420 per month for the monitor.

Moreover, if someone loses or breaks the monitor…

[Alejandro]: The replacement costs $3,950, just the device. There is an additional $50 charge if the power cord needs to be replaced as well.

[Silvia]: That’s nearly $4,000 to replace the monitor, when the same devices on Amazon or Ebay cost between $40 and $300.

The details about these charges, and the consequences for having to replace the monitor are on the contract.

[Inti]: But the people we’ve talked to have told us the contract was written in English, that no one translated it for them and that they signed it out of desperation.

[Cindi]: My name is Cindi. I come from El Salvador and I’ve been living here for a year and 6 months.

[Silvia]: Cindi is 25, and knows that desperation all too well.

Back in El Salvador she lived in San Sebastián Salitrillo, a town of about 30,000 people, located in the west of the country.

[Cindi]: I liked my job. I worked at a government institution called Ciudad Mujer, where there were only women.

[Silvia]: She worked as a driver, taking pregnant women to their medical exams, driving older women to the dentist…

[Cindi]: I never thought about having to leave my country, because I had my job and I was fine. I was fine.

[Silvia]: That was until the threats began. First, it was her partner, who is now her husband, who was threatened.

[Cindi]: They threatened to kill him. He was in a political party.

[Silvia]: The FMLN: The Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation, a leftist party. He was a councilman for the San Sebastián Salitrillo administration. Cindi was a volunteer as a youth coordinator for the same party.

[Cindi]: He was very active. He was the one who got the party’s politics moving and was a key figure. I think that’s why they threatened him.

[Silvia]: With that, he decided to move to the United States. And when he left, they started threatening her.

[Cindi]: I was intercepted two times: first they came directly to my house, then they went to my workplace. Two men stood on each side and threatened me. But then, later, it was only notes saying things were serious and that I had to get away, and leave everything behind.

[Silvia]: Leave everything behind, meant dropping her job and walking away from politics. She says that the men who threatened her identified themselves as gang members. It was than that she realized things truly were serious.

Then, Cindi quit her job without telling her boss why. On July 18th, 2016 she left El Salvador.

She made it to the U.S.-Mexico border in early August. She crossed the Rio Bravo with a group, but once in Texas, across the border, they were caught by the Border Patrol.

[Cindi]: For a moment I was sad, but I was also happy because I had a broken foot.

[Silvia]: Cindi had twisted her foot running. It was swollen and she could barely walk. She says that on one hand, deep inside, she wanted to be caught: she could no longer stand the pain on her foot.

[Cindi]: But I also felt sad knowing I could be sent back to my country to face the danger of going back.

[Silvia]: The agents took her to what is known as a hielera; that means icebox. It’s a cold room where many detained immigrants are crammed together. Cindi was surprised at how many people were there, especially children.

They were processed there: they had their pictures and fingerprints taken… and Cindi says an officer asked her if she was afraid to return to her country. She said she was. She was looking for asylum.

She was taken to a detention center in Laredo, Texas, where she was detained for 15 days. Then, she was transferred to another detention center in Houston, Texas, where she could meet with an asylum officer.

And this detention center, Cindi says, was different…

[Cindi]: Because where we were before it was only immigrants. In this detention center there were people guilty of serious crimes. There were people sentenced to many years.

[Silvia]: This was a prison with prisoners mixed with immigrants like Cindi, who was an asylum seeker. After 3 weeks she finally met with the asylum officer to explain to him why she could not go back to El Salvador.

[Cindi]: After meeting with him you simply wait for his answer: if he says “Yes, it’s credible”, or “I am sorry, it’s not credible and you’re deported”, or you wait for a hearing with the judge.

[Silvia]: However, before she was told whether she would be deported, Cindi got a letter from the asylum officer where she was given the chance to post bail.

[Cindi]: And well, the bail set for me to get out of there was $12,000.

[Silvia]: Now Cindi had two choices: she could either post bail, or wait to meet an immigration judge.

[Cindi]: Then the judge may decide that your bail is lifted but then you go deported, or that your bail is reduced. And since there were times when the judge actually decided to increase the bail amount, it’s a risk you take.

[Silvia]: Cindi wanted to avoid meeting the judge and taking that chance. The first thing she did after receiving the letter with the bail amount was call her sister, who had been in the United States for 5 years.

[Cindi]: And she says to me: “Where am I going to get that much money?”. And there was a moment when I told her: “Don’t worry, I am leaving, I’ll sign my deportation and I’m leaving”.

[Silvia]: But she didn’t. Returning was too dangerous.

[Cindi]: If I left, I would have to leave for another country immediately after arriving to mine. So, I had to wait and see what happened.

[Silvia]: Some days went by and Cindi spoke to her sister again. This time she said:

[Cindi]: “Look, there is a chance for you to get out of there, but you will have to wear a monitor”. And I said: “Doesn’t matter”. At that time I said: “It doesn’t matter, I have to go even if I have to wear that monitor, I am getting out of here”.

[Silvia]: Cindi’s partner had heard of Libre by Nexus. His boss had just used their services to post bail for a relative and he gave him the number. That is a common occurrence: many hear about Libre by Nexus through word of mouth. So Cindi’s family called Libre by Nexus.

[Cindi]: They asked my family for street address certifications, 4 recommendations and the money that would be spent in procedures. They had to pay around $3,800 just for paperwork.

[Silvia]: They were told that once they had made that deposit, Libre by Nexus would post Cindi’s bail and someone from the company would go get her out of the detention center. Cindi thought that was fantastic. As her partner had understood, Cindi would have to pay $420 a month once she was out.

[Cindi]: Then I said: “Wow, well, $420 a month and I’m out, so if I work hard I will pay the debt off quickly”. But what I didn’t know was that those $420 were only to wear the monitor. If I wanted to pay my $12,000 bail off I had to pay extra.

[Silvia]: Cindi was picked up by a Libre by Nexus employee at the detention center in Houston in October of 2016. Before she was taken to their office in the city, the employee took Cindi to get something to eat. That is what they do every time they get a “client” out. Someone Inti and Alejandro spoke to said that they also gave him a cell phone to call his family; a woman told them that Libre by Nexus paid for her son’s overnight stay in a hotel.  

Once in the office, Cindi says other people who had been released that day were there, and all were given a contract.

[Cindi]: They would tell us: “This page says this and that, and I need you to write your initials here”. But they never told us what the contract really stated. Not everything is in Spanish, only two or maybe three pages are in Spanish. Everything is in English.

[Silvia]: Inti and I spoke with a former Libre by Nexus employee, to try and understand Cindi’s story better.

[Tania Cortés]: My name is Tania Cortés. I worked for Nexus for approximately two years.

[Silvia]: Tania started at Libre by Nexus as a Client Experience Manager.

[Tania]: I would do everything involving a client: answering the phone, explaining the process and the costs…

[Silvia]: She also picked clients up at detention centers and installed monitors. Tania says that normally the $420 monthly rate that goes towards paying for the monitor –and nothing else– is explained to the families of the clients. Cindi’s partner, as we heard earlier, had not understood that.

Tania added that she always tried to explain the contract in detail, page by page, since it was in English. There was only one page in Spanish. She also confirmed what Inti and Alejandro had heard from other people: that occasionally the Libre by Nexus staff who picked them up did not speak Spanish.

Tania conceded that that happened from time to time with the staff who transported the clients, and that some clients even signed the contract with them.

[Tania]: And there were… there were many issues because clients were signing something they did not understand.

[Silvia]: But Tania says that during her time at Libre by Nexus, she perceived that the company tried to help the clients, that she never saw anything to indicate the company was trying to hurt them.

There are, however, aspects of Donovan’s business that are troubling. And the authorities seem to be on the trail.

The Attorney General of the State of New York is investigating the company. In November of 2017 it requested Nexus Services to hand over documents and information.

The company responded by suing the Attorney General before the New York Supreme Court claiming they cannot hand those documents over as that would jeopardize their clients.

[Inti]: The thing is that usually an investigation by the Attorney General does not go public. But since Nexus sued the Attorney General, all those documents were made public.

[Silvia]: So now we can see the arguments the Attorney General is using to get Nexus to hand the documents over. In them, the Attorney cites many points of concern that according to him indicate that the company may be involved in fraudulent, deceitful and illegal practices.

We won’t mention everything the Attorney General is worried about, because it’s a lot. But we will tell you it includes aspects such as the company failing to explain how much clients will end up paying at the end of their process for the tracking device.

[Inti]: He says it’s also problematic that they hand out contracts in English even though most of their clients don’t read or write in that language.  

[Silvia]: Another concern is that clients are unable to remove the monitor even when it hurts them. What is more, he considers it concerning that the company…

[Inti]: Threatens clients with calling ICE to get them deported, which is illegal.

[Silvia]: It is paramount to mention the Attorney General is not legally accusing Nexus Services of any of these things. He’s stating what he finds troubling about Nexus’s practices after analyzing legal cases and talking with Nexus’s clients, and consulting with lawyers. It is because of these concerns that the Attorney General wants the company to hand over the documents it is requesting: to investigate.

And while the company is facing these processes against it…

[Inti]: The CEO, Michael Donovan, and the company are quite litigant. They are currently involved in over 10 processes, I believe.

[Silvia]: In Virginia, in New York and in other places. There are also cases open against Donovan. For instance, Tania, her boyfriend and another former employee, are suing him because they claim…

[Inti]: He installed microphones in company vehicles to record his employees’ conversations without their consent.

[Silvia]: That case is still open.

[Rick Nagel]: My name is Rick Nagel, I was the Chief Government Affairs Officer for Nexus Services…

[Silvia]: That’s Rick, Tania’s boyfriend. Rick worked for Nexus Services for almost two and a half years.

[Rick]: Government Affairs is a position that deals with legislators at different levels of government…

[Silvia]: In his own words, Rick says that his job was to educate legislators about the company and its interests. In simple terms: he was a lobbyist. He supported bills that helped the company, and opposed those that could hurt it.

He adds that, as Libre by Nexus states in its website, he supported laws that helped immigrants. But something doesn’t add up: in order for Libre by Nexus to make money, there have to be detained immigrants.

So Inti and Alejandro analyzed public statements by lobbyists for Nexus Services, and here is where how much the company spends on lobbying becomes clear: in total, from 2015 to 2017 the company spent $780,000. What did they do with such a budget?

[Inti]: They could not be more ambiguous when they describe what they do for Nexus. For instance, there is “Oversight of Immigration and Customs Enforcement”. That’s an item: they are paying $300,000 for ICE oversight.

[Alejandro]: I could say: “I’m going to watch ICE”. But what are you going to look out for? Will you ensure that immigrants are better treated and that their rights are respected? Or will you make sure ICE is more repressive, tougher, and that more immigrants are detained?

[Silvia]: We asked Rick about this incongruence between Nexus’s pro-immigrant message and its business model. We told him we could not understand it.

[Rick]: Sure, sure. And I really can’t get inside Mike Donovan’s head. He’s the CEO of Nexus, but if you follow him in the press it’s always in terms of helping immigrants be released from detention.

[Silvia]: Rick adds that publicly Donovan states…

[Rick]: What is the best alternative? Is it to remain in custody, in detention? Or is it to be released on an ankle monitor and be able to live your life?

[Silvia]: We reached out to the company to request an interview with Michael Donovan. Their press officer agreed to receive questions via email, and with Inti and Alejandro we sent him a list of questions. We received no response by the date we closed this story.

They have, however, filed a response to the New York Attorney General, saying that he has no reasonable basis to say that Libre by Nexus is involved in misleading practices. And they provided two affidavits from current clients who, quote, “indicate a high level of satisfaction with the services they receive from Libre.”

Also, on April 20th, they put out a press release saying that the New York Attorney General and another Attorney General from Virginia were asking for private information about their clientes –something Donovan says he will not provide, quote, “without sufficient protections.”

[Cindi]: It’s not how it looks. It’s not that great opportunity you see on social media and on TV, that they’re compassionate, and help immigrants. My opinion is that all they do is take advantage of people, of people needing to get out, and of their chance to stay in this country.

[Silvia]: Cindi has worn the monitor for 1 year and 5 months. She wore it on her leg during her entire pregnancy, and during labor, too. Her son was born on April 1st.

[Cindi]: It’s very uncomfortable because I can’t go out like this, because people stare and say: “She must have done something”. You see, 1 in 10 people know this is from a company, but most people think it’s from Immigration.

[Silvia]: She adds that wearing it everyday, without being able to take it off…

[Cindi]: It’s really awful, because it heats up and sometimes it feels like the current from the charger makes you shake your leg involuntarily. Sometimes I feel strange. Sometimes I have hit myself, I’ve hit myself many times with it, but it’s very uncomfortable.

[Silvia]: Cindi paid $420 a month for a year, just for the monitor. She still hasn’t been able to start paying the debt off. And she has been unable to pay the monitor fee for six months. She lost her job and has no way to get the money.

[Cindi]: At that time they called me, repeatedly, to get me to pay. But it has been a few months since they called, and as I said they have only called me when the monitor is out of battery or when I haven’t charged it.

[Silvia]: The contract we obtained is not specific regarding what happens if a client stops paying for the monitor. It says more general things, for example that, quote, “dishonored checks or disputed credit card charges may result in additional fees”, and, “may result in criminal prosecution for fraud”. Or more broadly, that if a person fails to meet the conditions of the program they could be removed from it, that their bail bond could be revoked, and that they may be remanded to the jurisdiction where they face charges.

[Inti]: Would you recommend Nexus to others?

[Cindi]: No, I would not recommend anyone to get out like this with those companies. I regret it, I regret a 1,000 times to have accepted to get out under these conditions, without really knowing what would happen, what I would have to pay. And really, no.

[Silvia]: Cindi will have her first asylum hearing before a judge in September of 2018: nearly 2 years after her arrival in the United States, and nearly 2 years since she has been wearing the monitor from Libre by Nexus.

[Daniel]: This story was reported by Inti Pacheco and Alejandro Fernández. The producer is Silvia Viñas. The editors were Camila Segura and myself, Daniel Alarcón. Sound design by Andrés Azpiri. Fact checking by Daniel Villatoro.

You can visit our website to find links to the articles published by Univisión Data about bail bonds and about Libre by Nexus. You will also find an interactive tool to help you understand the true cost of signing a contract with Libre by Nexus.

Thanks to Esther Poveda and Ronny Rojas from Univisión Noticias.

The Radio Ambulante team includes Jorge Caraballo, Patrick Mosley, Laura Pérez, Ana Prieto, Barbara Sawhill, Luis Trelles, David Trujillo, Elsa Liliana Ulloa and Luis Fernando Vargas. Our CEO is Carolina Guerrero.

Radio Ambulante is produced and mixed with Hindenburg PRO.

To learn more about Radio Ambulante and this story, visit our website: radioambulante.org

Radio Ambulante tells the stories from Latin America. I´m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.

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