GRAND RAPIDS — Kent County immigration advocates are raising money for a fund that’s meant to keep some residents from being detained as they await immigration hearings.
The Kent County Immigrant Bond for Our Neighbors’ Defense (I-BOND) fund was created last year in response to the Trump administration’s heightened immigration enforcement. It raises money to help pay cash bonds for Kent County residents facing detention on immigration-related charges.
Advocates say immigration bonds are typically set at $5,000 or more, with the median amount at $10,000 in Michigan. This is often a barrier for detained residents who could spend months or years awaiting a hearing in immigration court.
“We are seeing many more people getting arrested and detained, and we’re seeing the bonds much higher than they used to be,” said Richard Kessler, a Grand Rapids-based immigration attorney helping the effort.
Fund organizers are hosting a formal fundraising kick-off on Tuesday in Grand Rapids. To date, the fund has bonded out a mother of five who had been detained for five months, organizers report.
Supporters also say the fund doesn’t simply “postpone the inevitable,” as 68 percent of detainees nationally released on bond successfully avoid deportation. Kessler said he has immigration cases with pending court dates in 2022.
Kessler said local bond funds are growing amid the Trump administration’s heightened immigration enforcement. National funds are available, but Kessler said “pretty strict requirements” about qualifying for assistance have created a need for more options.
Not everyone who is detained on immigration charges qualifies for bond, including those who have been deported before or have certain criminal convictions. Kessler said about half of the people who are detained qualify for bond. It’s also up to an immigration judge to set the bond price based on the circumstances of the case. Immigration bonds must be fully paid in cash unlike other criminal bonds that may require just 10 percent.
“It’s very punitive, I’ve found,” Kessler said.
Over the past year, roughly 300 people in Kent County were detained and held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), some of whom have no criminal history.
Kessler said fewer than 10 people have been aided by the Kent County I-BOND fund. The fund works in partnership with the Joy Like a River United Church of Christ in Wyoming, a sanctuary church for undocumented immigrants, as well as Grand Rapids Rapid Response to ICE.
Organizers seek donations amid a contentious period for West Michigan immigrants, particularly the Latino community. Advocates have pressured the city of Grand Rapids and Kent County to reform policies on immigration and interactions with ICE.
In early January, Kent Co. Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young announced a policy shift to require a signed warrant to hold detainees past their release date. The shift led to a public dispute between the department and ICE.
On Friday, the Grand Rapids Police Department under Chief Eric Payne issued guidelines for employees when interacting with foreign nationals.
Under the policy, the GRPD is prohibited from inquiring about a person’s immigration status when they seek police services, and are barred from stopping a person based solely on actual or perceived immigration status, among other measures. It comes after local immigration advocates discovered a close relationship between GRPD and ICE.
“This policy codifies that commitment and the expectation that everyone in our community receives equal service regardless of citizenship or immigration status,” Payne said in a statement.