'Fall Freedom Day': Nearly 200 ICE Detainees Being Bonded Out of Detention in Record-Breaking $2 Million Effort

Immigration advocates are declaring November 20 "Fall Freedom Day," as they work to see as many as 200 immigration detainees bonded out of federal custody before the end of the day in a $2.1 million initiative.

In an interview with Newsweek on Wednesday, Blake Vera, the accompaniment and bond coordinator at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), said he was watching in "real-time" as bond payments were accepted at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices across the country.

By around 10:45 a.m. ET, at least 20 bond payments had already been accepted, with dozens more expected to be approved.

"This is the largest organized effort to pay this many immigration bonds in one day," Vera said about the initiative. "We're kind of in this weird state of being excited and anxious."

The effort was done in conjunction with the National Bail Fund Network, he said, but also with the participation of volunteers across the country dedicating their time, money and even air miles to seeing detained immigrants released and transported safely to where they need to be.

In fact, much of the $2.1 million being dedicated to the bid to see dozens of detained immigrants released is from the millions of dollars that RAICES received in donations from people across America and around the world who were moved to take action in the wake of controversy over the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" family separation policy.

"This is really a team effort to try to stand up to detention," Vera said. "Otherwise we're just kind of feeding into this cycle of paying ransom to ICE."

According to Vera, the initiative is expected to see immigration detainees released across several states, including Texas, New York, California, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Arizona.

What many people do not realize, Vera told Newsweek, is just how high the bond payments can be for some immigrant detainees.

"Today, we're paying bonds, there's some that are $30,000, some that are $20,000 or $10,000," he said. "It's really unfortunate because you navigate this system and then a judge says, 'okay, you have can have your freedom, but you need to pay $30,000 in ransom in order to escape this prison.'"

"What person is going to have that amount of money ready to go in full in order to get out?" he asked.

As a result, Vera said, many immigrants spend more time in immigration detention than they would if they had smaller bonds to pay.

What's more, he added, the way that bond payments are decided is completely "arbitrary."

"So, if you have a judge that has had a bad day, he can set a bond at $80,000," Vera said. "The system is completely arbitrary."

"These people shouldn't even be detained in the first place, let alone be given bonds that are insanely high," the RAICES bonds coordinator argued.

RAICES, he said, is currently struggling with a major backlog of cases in which people have requested support in paying off their bonds.

Helping pay these bonds, Vera said, is important, because "the sooner you pay that bond to get out the better because it's really dangerous to stay in detention for numerous reasons."

Not only is RAICES concerned for the wellbeing of immigration detainees held in ICE custody, but immigration advocates have continuously warned about their difficulties reaching clients detained by the agency and staying up to date on their cases.

Still, Vera said, "there are probably thousands of people who have immigration bonds they need help paying" who are still waiting for their "freedom day" to come.

Newsweek has contacted ICE for comment for this article.

ICE detention
An immigrant detainee looks from his 'segregation cell' at the Adelanto Detention Facility on November 15, 2013 in Adelanto, California. Dozens of immigration detainees held under the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency's custody are expected to be released in the coming days as advocates race to pay their bonds. John Moore/Getty