Earlier this year, New Times detailed the horrific case of Maria, a 24-year-old who fled persecution in Guatemala, gave birth to multiple American children, and wound up jailed in an ICE detention facility in South Florida after she was arrested while trying to pay a $150 traffic fine. Speaking from inside the detention center, Maria told New Times in Spanish that she was allowed to see her three young children only an hour or two each week and that her 9-year-old daughter was afraid she'd also be detained if she visited her mom.
Maria — whose name New Times changed because her case remains open — is finally now out of ICE's Broward Transitional Facility in Pompano Beach. Her lawyer, Jonathan Urrutia of the Legal Aid Service of Broward County, says Maria's immigration case was reopened and she was allowed to post bail for her release.
The only problem: In exchange for her release, ICE demanded $20,000, an amount typically given to accused felons or multitime offenders. "[It's] a ridiculous amount for a single mother of three who has been detained for two months now," Urrutia says.
Maria considered starting a GoFundMe campaign to raise the cash, but eventually the nonprofit Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) paid the cost through its donation-based immigration bond fund.
This is the second time Maria has paid a bond related to the case. She was originally arrested by Martin County law-enforcement agents and paid $750 to be released. But local cops kept her in jail anyway until ICE could pick her up — a practice her lawyers argue violates the U.S. Constitution.
Maria is still one of the luckier detainees in ICE custody. For example, ICE has deported other parents while their children remain either free on U.S. soil or in separate detention facilities. The federal government has given some parents the "choice" of being deported with or without their kids.
There is also no guarantee that Maria's case will end on a positive note. Though she has been freed from detention and is allowed to see her family again, the federal government is still moving to deport her. And ICE has a habit of arbitrarily detaining individuals at routine check-ins in a practice that immigrant groups call "silent raids."
The incident also illustrates why activists believe it's dangerous for local jails to cooperate with ICE. When Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced in January 2017 that county jails would again begin holding immigrants for ICE, activists warned that innocent immigrants would get caught up for small-time traffic violations.
Maria gave birth to her first child in Guatemala years before fleeing to the United States, settling in Chicago, and working manual-labor jobs while giving birth to two more children. She wound up going into labor with her last child during a meeting for her immigration case. A judge then ordered her deported without her present in the courtroom.
As the deportation proceedings dragged on, Maria was eventually issued a $150 civil traffic fine while driving this year in Martin County. Officers released her from the scene, but when she returned earlier this summer to voluntarily pay the fine, Martin County cops told her she was being held on an arrest warrant. She rushed to pay her $750 bond to avoid being held for ICE, but the Martin County Sheriff's Office detained her anyway. Urrutia sent New Times a copy of a letter his office sent to the Martin County Jail warning officials they were violating Maria's civil rights.
ICE, however, still picked Maria up and shipped her to the Broward Transitional Center, a privately run ICE facility that houses "low-priority" detainees in Pompano Beach. The oft-protested facility is run by Boca Raton's GEO Group, ICE's largest contractor and a major donor in political races.
During her call with New Times, Maria said she was motivated to share her story to show Americans that, even before Donald Trump's administration began separating families from children at the border, the U.S. deportation machine was still ripping families apart.
"They say they are not going to separate families, but that is a lie," Maria told New Times. "They do it here. There are many women being kept away from their kids. They think this country is compassionate. They think this is a country of justice. But it is really one of suffering."