With a location, an attorney can call and use the detainee's Alien Registration Number to track down the Deportation Officer in charge of the case. That officer has been trained to be completely unemotional about the nature of her job and may even refuse to speak to family members. It is her job, through her supervisor, to set bail for the alien if the law permits it. Those classified as "arriving aliens" or have certain criminal convictions are not eligible for bond at all. Even for those who are eligible, the paperwork involved in getting an amount and clearance to pay it come at a glacial pace.
In a recent experience, I had to call the detention center repeatedly for two hours a day just to get a live person. The switchboard is overwhelmed. Each call that didn't yield the desired result necessitated another two hours or so of continual redialing to get through. When I told the officer that my client had sustained serious injuries and was in need of urgent medical attention, this is the exchange we had.
Me: I'm concerned that he hasn't received any medical attention for his emergent medical condition.
Officer: Not to worry. A medical team circulates among the centers and he will be attended with 2 weeks.
Me: I don't know that his recent injuries can wait for 2 weeks.
Officer: Oh, that's why we have a medical team. They'll get to him within 2 weeks and if there are injuries they will bring it to my attention.
Me: I'M bringing it to your attention now.
Officer: Well, that's not the way it works.
No, but it's the way it doesn't work. In any case, once bail was finally set, the decision had to be made whether to pay it or ask the judge to consider lowering it. What might sound like a simple decision is not when one considers that this decision would only come after two or three weeks more of my client remaining in detention (or four or five). It must be remembered that immigration detention is not entirely unlike prison, and in many cases actually is a prison -- with convicted criminals mixed among the detainees.
But perhaps the most disturbing part of this story comes at the end. After enduring uncertainty, physical pain, and deprivation, my client was overjoyed to learn that bail had been set and that his family had painstakingly gathered the necessary funds. The ICE office, however, refused to accept the money orders which had been made out to "Dept of Homeland Security" instead of "Department of Homeland Security." Is there a bank in the world that wouldn't have cashed these? Is there any more common abbreviation than "Dept" for "Department"? The most pressing question of all: "Are they serious?"
They were. The lesson for today is that ICE will do everything in its power to make the bail process as difficult and slow as possible. There is room in detention to hold people who qualify to be released, but there is no room for abbreviation.