Immigrant Ankle Monitors: Unfair Practice or Humane Service?
Jose wears an ankle monitor on his right leg.
Caught crossing the U.S.-Mexican border, the Honduran native was detained for about 17 months in an immigration facility, first in Texas and then in New Jersey, where his bail was set at $20,000.
Jose, who asked not to be identified by his real name, did not have the money. Usually the full amount is required in illegal immigration cases because immigrants are considered flight risks.
His pro bono immigration lawyer could not help him with the bond amount, but he told Jose about Libre by Nexus, a Virginia-based company that helps detained immigrants pay bonds by fitting them with ankle monitors.
WATCH: US Immigration Ankle Monitors Come Under Question
Libre by Nexus is able to give the bonding company financial guarantees so rather than the full amount, the detainee pays a bond premium of typically 10 to 15 percent of the face value of the bond to the bondsman.
Once the bond payment is met, immigrants must still wait while their cases, usually requests for asylum, make their way through the backlogged immigration courts. But they can leave jail as long as they are equipped with a GPS device and are willing to pay the monthly fees.
Jose must pay $420 a month to rent the monitor. He must also pay off the bond payment and interest in monthly installments. He needs to make about $1,420 every month to cover all fees.
He lives rent-free in a halfway house and cleans houses to make enough to pay Libre by Nexus.
“All that I wanted was to get out of detention,” Jose told VOA. “I spent two birthdays, two Christmases without family. It was very hard.”
“Let Libre by Nexus bring your loved one home,” the company says on its website, calling its GPS program “a critical service to our clients, the securitization of their immigration bond so that they can be released from immigration custody.”
But the federal government is investigating Libre by Nexus, to see if the company has engaged in “unfair, deceptive or abusive acts” by “marketing or selling those products or services to consumers or enforcing their terms and conditions.”
Documents show that on Aug. 22, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sent a request to the company asking for Libre’s files on about 15,000 clients nationwide.
CFPB, an agency created by Congress during the financial crisis of 2007-2008 to regulate financial companies, says the purpose of the civil investigation is to “determine whether persons who provide products or services related to bonds posted on behalf of detainees are extending credit or offering to extend credit.”
The Washington Post has reported that some contracts between Libre and immigrants have been “the subject of lawsuits and allegations of fraud by immigrants who did not understand them.”
The paper interviewed dozens of immigrants who said Libre employees allegedly threatened them when they were struggling to pay the monthly fee for the ankle monitor.
“I worry a lot because I don’t have money,” Jose admitted. “I feel embarrassed to [wear it] so I [don’t] wear shorts. I only leave the house wearing pants.”
Libre filed a petition in September, arguing the company does not “provide consumer financial products or services, and therefore, is not subject to the demands of the CFPB,” which Libre called an “unconstitutional” bureau.
Libre also said the request was “excessively vague and overbroad” and would cost the company about $204,160 plus “two employees to spare for 2.5 months to solely focus on gathering the information” and 8,060 hours of work.
CFPB Bureau Director Richard Corday rejected Libre’s arguments on Oct. 11 and gave the company 10 calendar days to “produce all responsive documents.”
Libre did not respond to a VOA email seeking comment. CFPB has not confirmed if Libre complied with the agency’s request.
Journey to US
Jose was 20 years old when he left Honduras in 2015. He had moved to the city and found work.
But one Sunday, he was approached at work by a man with a gun, who assaulted him, emptied the cash registers and stole his work phone.
“Then I begin to receive extortion calls. They told me that I had to make monthly payments and if I didn’t pay … they would kill me and they knew where my whole family lived,” Jose said.
Jose stopped picking up his cellphone, said goodbye to relatives, and told his mother that he was leaving for the United States.
After 11 days in Texas, Jose was taken to Delaney Hall Detention Center in New Jersey.
Through a New Jersey organization called First Friends, which provides detained immigrants and asylum-seekers assistance with resettlement and advocacy, he was able to find a lawyer.
Now 22, he lives in a transition house for immigrants who are rebuilding their lives and waiting for their day in court.
“If the judge says I can stay, that would be amazing, because I don’t want to go back to my country. It would be my future, my professional future. I would study, I would be someone,” Jose said.