LILLIAN SALCIDO A group of refugees passes time on a lot behind Casa Oscar Romero-in Brownsville ecto client, a 19-year-old Salvadoran named Luis, fled seven years of bombing and battles in the province of Usulutan. Against his conscience and religion, he was twice forced to serve in the military. The first time, he had a nervous breakdown and was released. He later was recruited again and fled the country, wanting to join his brother in Houston. Luis was still emotionally disturbed when he was apprehended by the Border Patrol in December of 1986 and was getting worse while held in the corraldn. An affidavit from a friend in the corraldn told how guards made fun of him, calling him “El Pipiripao,” or the little general. Proyecto appealed to immigration judge Howard Achstam for a bond reduction, but it was denied on the grounds that there was no one to serve as legal guardian for the young Salvadoran despite the testimony of Fr. DePasquale, who agreed to be responsible for Luis and testified about his concern for Luis’s mental health in a place such as the corraldn. Luis was detained for six months with limited medical care, unable even to provide Proyecto with lucid testimony about what had happened to him in El Salvador, according to Proyecto lawyers and paralegals. The INS seemed determined to deport Luis. Over a period of six months, Proyecto was unable to obtain Luis’s medical records, which were a necessary part of his case for asylum. According to a court document filed by an attorney for Luis the INS repeatedly agreed to release the records but failed to come through. The INS also refused to negotiate for a lower bond. Finally, with help from churches, Proyecto raised the $3,000 to bond Luis out. Achstam still has not decided whether Luis is emotionally able to have an asylum hearing. Proyecto Libertad, being a nonprofit group with limited funds itself and the only nonprofit group representing detainees, can bond out only those clients with the most urgent asylum claims, because churches and sanctuary groups are willing to raise the bond money. The result, says Cushman, is that more than 50 percent of the detainees he interviews eventually take deportation despite considerable fear of returning to their countries. The days when refugees would get the benefit of the doubt are gone. When Lisa Brodyaga started Proyecto in 1980, bonds were set at around $2,000, but she could often persuade the immigration judge to lower them. Two bonding companies opened in 1981; if refugees could come up with about 15 percent of their total bond, the bond company would pay the rest. The companies would keep the 15 percent for a fee even if the refugee returned for the hearing. There was just one INS attorney; Brodyaga and the INS would sit across from each other at a table negotiating. Immigration Judge James Smith was eager to reach a decision. “He used to say the easy way is hard enough,” Brodyaga remembers. “He just wanted closed cases.” When Judge Michael Horn was appointed to replace Smith, however, the easy victories came to a halt. “It was clear he came in with the directive to clean up things – to stop up the sieve, because we were just processing people out lik6 crazy for 60 to 80 a month we were getting changes of venues, sending them to Canada, bonding them out,” Brodyaga says. Now, Proyecto lawyers say they are lucky to obtain outside avenues for 20 people a month. Bonds are set at a minimum $3,000 but often range from $4,000 to $10,000 based on factors such as previous deportations, noncooperation with the Border Patrol, etc. Immigration Judges Horn and Daniel Kahn, who left the Harlingen district in September, and current Judge Howard Achstam rarely lower bonds. Judge Alan Vomacka, who started here last autumn, will lower a bond if the detainee can provide proof of a resident or citizen relative or a church sponsor. In addition, only one bond company Aaron Federal Bonding Agency of Houston remains, and the rates they charge are now closer to 50 percent than to the 15 percent that had been customary. For THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
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