The Issue


Immigrants held in detention centers are forced to navigate complex immigration laws and procedures without legal representation, put in danger of losing public benefits, jobs, housing, and healthcare, more likely to lose their cases, and unable to provide for their families – in addition to the distress of incarceration itself. Immigrants, and their families, who cannot afford to post bail are severely punished for being poor.



Any non-citizen without legal status can be detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation proceedings. This includes all undocumented people, people seeking asylum or refugee status, and lawful residents who have been arrested or charged for a criminal offense. Often immigrants are detained for as little as a misdemeanor. Because of a backlog in immigration cases, if a detained person cannot pay the average $3,411 bail, they may spend years in detention awaiting the conclusion of their proceedings.

Immigration detention is jail. In 2014, 599 immigrants were being held in the three detention centers in Northern California. Immigration detention centers limit movement, visitation, food recreation, and access to the outside world; people in detention are confined to cells, are forced to wear uniforms, and are often held alongside people serving criminal convictions. Detention centers sometimes employ solitary confinement and, what human rights organization have called, excessive use of restraints and lack of access to healthcare and exercise.


Unlike criminal defendants who are guaranteed legal representation, immigrants in detention may never speak to legal counsel. According to a study conducted by the Northern California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice (NCCIJ) in 2014, roughly 2 in 3 immigrants detained by the San Francisco Immigration Court did not receive any legal representation during their proceedings. Trying to navigate the complex set of immigration laws and procedures from inside detention with limited access to materials, friends and family, and phone calls is extremely difficult. Consequently, immigrants who secure bond during their case and find legal representation are about 8 times more likely win their cases than those who remain incarcerated and unrepresented.


Any amount of time in detention can put the public benefits, jobs, housing, healthcare, or child custody of a detained immigrant at risk. In 2014, more than 50% of detainees in Northern California had lived in the United States for 10 years or more; 77% had families in the United States; and 65% had jobs before entering detention. The detention and deportation of an individual simply because they cannot afford to pay bail, has devastating consequences for the spouse, children, and community who depend on their earnings, including harm to their financial, educational, physical, and mental wellbeing.


To reduce the enormous negative outcomes for immigrants who are detained, their family, and their community, we pay bond to get them out. Bailed out, represented immigrants are eight times more likely to win their cases than unrepresented detainees. By increasing their access to legal representation, time with their family and community, and their ability to maintain their jobs, homes, and other prospects, they will be more likely to fight their deportation cases, remain with their families and communities, and become financially secure.