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What happens if you post bond for an ICE detainee and he flees?

One of the many concerns immigrant rights advocates have about the detention of unauthorized migrants by the Department of Homeland Security is that it separates families. In many cases, immigrants detained by ICE are held in DHS detention facilities far away from their American homes and families, and a number have been denied visitors or even access to legal counsel.

Luckily, in some cases immigrants can be released from ICE detention on bond, much as if they were jailed before trial on a criminal charge. In such cases, family members often work hard to find the money to post an appearance bond on behalf of their loved detained loved one. An appearance bond is essentially a guarantee that the detainee will appear at their court hearings. If they do, the family member ultimately gets the bond money back at the end of the case.

What happens if you post an appearance bond for a family member and he or she disappears or refuses to appear at the court date? How much trouble are you in? Will you be arrested, or charged with a federal crime like harboring an alien?

Don’t worry. If the person you posted a bond for doesn’t show up in court, the only penalty to you is that you will lose your money. Unfortunately for the person who fails to appear, however, he or she will be issued a deportation order “in absentia,” which means in their absence. That means that ICE can immediately move forward with deportation if they find him or her.

A lot of immigrants, authorized or unauthorized, and many sympathetic U.S. citizens have concerns about a section of the Immigration and Naturalization Act that criminalizes “bringing in and harboring certain aliens.” In reality, you probably have nothing to worry about.

These charges almost exclusively brought against people who are trying to smuggle people into the U.S. and, in a small number of cases, companies who knowingly hire them. It’s virtually unheard of for them to be brought, or even threatened, against U.S. citizen- or permanent resident-family members, friends, or activists who offer them assistance.

It is not illegal to post an appearance bond on behalf of an undocumented immigrant detainee. Unfortunately, the financial consequences to the family can be important, so it’s best to consult with an immigration lawyer if your loved one being held in immigration detention.

Source: New York Daily News Citizenship NOW! blog, “Wife who posted court appearance bond for arrested husband will lose that money now that he's fled,” Allan Wernick, Oct. 6, 2013

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