“I Hope to...
“I Hope to Find a Way Out”: Bonding out Asylum Seekers in New Hampshire
On August 24, some 200 marchers from four New England states met at the Strafford County detention center in New Hampshire where immigrants are held. They conducted a mock funeral ceremony for immigrants killed at the Mexican border; as they marched by the prison they could see detainees pressed against the slim rectangular glass windows and hear them pounding against the walls.
The first speaker said:
We gather here today outside the Strafford Detention Center in solidarity, witness, grief, and hope.
We are here in solidarity with our siblings detained within.
We gather here to witness to a broken system that uses black and brown bodies for profit, dehumanizes Muslims, cages children and causes death.
We gather here today to mourn the dead, and we are here today to call for a different future.
The bond fund we are working to create aspires to be part of this different future.
Some immigrants came to New Hampshire just recently, seeking safety after suffering repression at home. Others have lived here for decades, working and raising families. Increasingly, ICE is imprisoning members of both groups. The good news is, many detained immigrants are eligible to be released on bond. But that takes money that they often don’t have. Here are some of their stories. Their names have been changed for their protection:
Harold escaped certain death in the Congo, his home country, for his ethnic identity. His family went into hiding, but Harold fled to the U.S. on a visa —only to be seized by ICE at the NH-Canadian border. His crime? Attempting to cross over to Quebec where people speak French, his native language. Thanks to help from our fund and other supporters, Harold was bonded out and is now living at the UU Church of Manchester while awaiting his day in immigration court. In the meantime, Harold has received his working papers, NH driver’s license, and he has landed a new job.
Sally, from Zimbabwe, was jailed by ICE on a routine traffic stop. She described jail to us as “the worst thing that can happen to a person.” Personal power and choice are taken away. Sally told us that no soap or lotion are provided and there is no opportunity ever to go outside. Officials took her documents and subsequently lost all of them. Sally was bonded out through the help of the United Church of Christ. Recently she had her asylum hearing and she won her case!
John recently wrote us from the Strafford County detention center, where he’s been held for the past year. It’s been harder than he imagined it could be. “I got detained a month after my daughter’s birth,” he wrote. “I feel that I have failed her as a father. I wasn’t there for her when she needed me. She’s been through two surgeries already before she even turned one year old, and I wasn’t there for her…I am in a dark tunnel. I hope to see the light soon. I don’t know how long I can go on.”
Working in concert with immigrant organizers, UUs from across New Hampshire, and other communities of faith, the New Hampshire Bail and Bond Fund is working to pay immigrant bonds, which can be anywhere between $1,500 and $20,000 per person, and to provide other support to immigrants fighting for asylum.
The need for bond money is as great as the cause is compelling. As John wrote, at the end of his message “Because of you I might be saved. I hope to find a way out.”
Bail Equity in Manchester, NH
Thanks to UU Manchester, the Manchester NAACP, and Faithify-ers like YOU, the unfair money bail system is being disrupted.
Help create bail...
Should someone be in jail simply because they cannot pay bail–even if the amount is as low as $100? For most of us, the answer is a no-brainer. And yet it is happening at the Valley Street Jail in Manchester, New Hampshire, and while many New Hampshire citizens have been working to change the law on bail, it’s a stubborn problem, and the jail continues to resemble a 19th century debtors’ prison. Fortunately, there’s a way to help people even under the current system. We are a coalition of Unitarian Universalists in partnership with the Manchester NAACP who hope with your help to bring change.
The people being held have been charged but not convicted of anything. Their jail time costs the general public $100 per day or more in taxes. On a typical day, more than 60 people are held in Manchester because they can’t pay bail of $1,000 or less (New Hampshire Public Radio). On a recent visit to the jail a reporter for The New Hampshire Union Leader found a 66-year-old being held on $200 bail who is on his eighth day in custody who is charged with throwing someone’s clothes into a laundromat dumpster while intoxicated. Another woman was being held after missing court dates for a longstanding dispute stemming from a bad check she wrote to keep her heat on back in 2012.
A number of court and correction officials, including David Dionne, superintendent of Valley Street Jail, have spoken out against the use of bail in many low-level cases. Dionne told the Union Leader that people who are held on bail can have their Social Security retirement of disability benefits cut off, and some may lose Medicaid and have difficulty getting it reactivated once they’re released. “People with low bail like that–$100, $250–they shouldn’t be here,” he said. New Hampshire Public Radio quotes Superior Court Chief Justice Tina Nadeau: “we get into trouble when we set low cash amounts because we think somebody might be able to post it, and really the people we’re seeing are poor and can’t.” According again to NHPR, “many will spend more than a month behind bars awaiting court dates.”
Pretrial detention disproportionately affects people of color. NHPR reported in 2016 that while only 8 percent of Hillsborough County’s population is black or Hispanic, these groups make up 16 percent of county arrests and 27 percent of those who are locked up while awaiting trial.
Ideally, the whole institution of bail should be challenged, but this isn’t going to happen immediately, and meanwhile people are suffering. Our plan is to create a fund that would pay the bail of those recommended by a public defender, generally for those owing $500 or less. The good news is that eventually the court will return most of this money, so that your generous contribution will be multiplied again and again as accused people make their court dates and the money gets returned to the bail fund. Such funds have proved successful elsewhere.
Right now–as in so many other ways–the deck is stacked against those at the bottom, who may lose jobs and have their lives torn apart while they languish in jail needlessly.
It’s time to change this!