A staggering report from The Texas Observer describes a scheme that allegedly preys upon immigrants recently released from ICE detainment centers. Libre by Nexus, a Virgina-based company that reportedly brings in more than $30 million a year, offers to help detained immigrants by arranging for their bail to be paid by bondsmen. Upon their release, however, the former detainees are stuck paying hundreds of dollars a month in “monitoring” fees unrelated to the money owed for their bonds, potentially trapping them in debt indefinitely.
Two former detainees interviewed by the Observer said they were led to believe that monthly payments of $420 were paying off the $10,000 bonds that secured their freedom until their court dates. They were wrong. $420 was simply the price of Libre’s monthly monitoring services, including the cost of leasing the company’s bulky GPS ankle bracelets.
According to a class action lawsuit filed in June, Libre compels immigrants to sign “English-language rental agreements with only selective Spanish-language disclosures” which the suit alleges is intended to purposely misrepresent what, exactly, customers are purchasing from the company.
As the Observer explains, ICE detainees don’t usually have real estate or a car to offer as collateral to bail bondsmen. The Libre program instead requires customers to wear GPS trackers as assurances to bondsmen that immigrants won’t flee the country before their court date; for immigration cases, these court dates are sometimes years in the future. According to court filings, however, the devices often don’t work. The GPS units allegedly regularly malfunction, fail to charge, or die completely, but customers must still pay a rental fee on even a nonfunctional device.
And the saddest part: former detainees still keep them on even if they’re completely nonfunctional for fear of paying the $4,000 replacement fee. One man interviewed by the Observer kept wearing his ankle monitor even after being granted DACA status out of fear of being returned to ICE. Another customer reportedly kept her bracelet attached months into her pregnancy, despite it causing cutting into her ankles and irritating her skin, removing it only after she’d been given permission from Libre.
According to The Washington Post, Libre customers told the paper that employees threatened to have them detained again if they failed to pay. Legally speaking, Libre doesn’t have the authority to do that. An ICE spokesperson explained to Observer that the bondsman themselves would have to physically bring the immigrant to the agency to be processed after revocation. But because Libre has already paid the bond on the customer’s behalf, and there is no way to revoke it, these threats of detainment are empty. At best, they can sue them in civil court for breach of contract, but they’re unlikely to get much given how little these immigrants have in the first place.
“People have this understanding that: ‘I got out of detention by signing this contract; if I withdraw from this contract, I’m back in detention,’” Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg, an attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center, told the Observer. “But that’s actually not the case.”