After Detention on the Border: Surviving the Holding Pattern
Thursday, July 18th, 2019
The following information is from a research report by Casa de Esperanza’s National Latin@ Network and St. Edward’s University. Download the entire report for free here.
Post-Detention: Surviving the Holding Pattern
This study reveals a host of immediate and long-term needs and risks faced by women following their release from detention. Prior to being released, women often lack information and advanced notice about their release. Rather, research participants described sudden releases from detention, often late at night without the resources or support to find safe lodging. Service providers described women who had been left at an urban bus station late at night with two small children, not knowing what to do or where to go, and without adequate food, supplies, or funds to buy bus tickets to their destination. Longer-term needs include medical care, mental health care, employment, legal representation, and social support and connection.
Research participants described tremendous barriers to accessing the services and support needed to meet those immediate and long-term needs after being detained. They described going without important medical treatment or medication due to cost and lack of health insurance, suffering continuing mental health needs such as depression, post-traumatic stress, and suicidal ideation. One Honduran survivor said she was anxious to talk to someone “que
me escuche sin juzgarme.”1 Research participants also described precarious housing options for women following their release from detention. Many pay rent informally and are consequently at risk of losing housing at any time. One woman reported that despite being in the asylum-seeking process, she did not have the paperwork or documentation requested by landlords, “No podía consequir apartamento, ya que no tengo ningún papel americano.”2
“People need a safe, secure place where they have a bit of freedom to be themselves and make their own dinner and use the shower at a certain time. Just having the space to recollect and re-center and care for themselves.”
Compounding the lack of access to mainstream social services and supports, and contributing to the criminalization of previously detained women, many incur suffering and debts related to paying bonds and living with ankle monitors. In order to be released from detention, many women are required to pay bonds of $7,000, $10,000, or $15,000 in full. Many still owe a debt to those who helped them make the journey to the U.S. and are unable to pay their bond. Survivors reported going further into debt to those who paid their bond. In addition, some women are required by the government to wear ankle monitors upon release from detention. Research participants described these grilletes as a source of pain, humiliation and criminalization, as well as a significant barrier to finding employment. Employers may be unwilling to hire someone with an ankle monitor, because they are suspicious or do not want to put other undocumented workers at risk. In addition, those with ankle monitors have a limited geographic range of mobility and are required to remain at home for regular checks, further impeding employment options. Survivors report not being told why it is put on or when it will come off. Others are told that the duration is related to their behavior, but are unsure what that means. A survivor from Honduras said, “ellos no te dicen ni porque te lo ponen, ni cuando, ni nada.”3 Distinct from government-issued ankle monitors, other women become dependent on a private company (Libre by Nexus) that offers to pay a woman’s bond if she agrees to wear the company’s ankle monitor and pay a monthly fee. This company now has power and control over her. Following release from detention, many women are also required to present themselves periodically to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for what are referred to as ICE check-ins. Some women are additionally required to attend periodic ankle monitor check-ins at a different location. Women experience tremendous difficulty securing transportation to check-ins, further impeding employment opportunities and social integration.
Precarious housing, high bonds, and employment barriers contribute to increased vulnerability to exploitation and other abuses. Furthermore, many women applying for asylum must wait long periods of time to receive work authorization. One service provider stated, “There are people who go through the whole process never being authorized (to work) until they have asylum. That makes people very vulnerable to trafficking and crime.” In fact, service providers reported exploitation as an almost inevitable consequence, “without a work permit, they can work ‘under the table’ and do other things where yes, they’re going to be exploited.” Bonds may also facilitate human trafficking. One service provider noted, “bonds make women susceptible to trafficking and peonage labor and sexual slavery,” and another stated, “If we put these people out in our country with no work authorization and owing $10,000 or $20,000, what is going to happen? That is a no-brainer.” Others described the danger of sexual assault (“sexual assault at work and they can’t complain because they’re going to lose their jobs”) or recurring intimate partner violence (“You end up being subjected to the same violence because you’re still vulnerable and end up dependent on someone else here that treats you horribly.”) Research participants report that little is done to prevent such victimization.
Finally, the post-detention experience is one of waiting. Service providers described women living in a state of limbo, or in a holding pattern, “they make this life, but it’s all such a tentative life.” During this time, women face numerous changes and delays in their court hearings and postponed remedy or resolution to their immigration status. This creates difficulty with asylum cases, in particular. As one immigration attorney reported, “not only do they have to remember it [details of the persecution or violence] all, but they have to remember with the specificity as if it happened yesterday.” These delays and shifting timelines also create the harmful sense of persistent alertness and being on edge. “You might be told you’re going to have a hearing in a month, and then all of a sudden you’re told it’s going to be in five years, but then they’ve pulled it up earlier. It’s going to be a year. Then the opposite, you thought you were going to have a hearing in 2019, and then all of a sudden you find out that actually a notice came to your house that you have a hearing the next day.”
1 “who listens to me without judging me.”
2 “I couldn’t get an apartment, because I didn’t have a single American document.”
3 “They don’t tell you why they put it on you, or when, or anything.”