Lessons from Bonding Out "Luis"

On Friday, January 31, Edna White and I (Curtis Smith), representing the NH Bail and Bond fund drove from Manchester NH to an ordinary looking building in Burlington, MA—right next to the Burlington Mall—where ICE bonds out immigrants being held in various prisons, including the Plymouth Correctional Facility about an hour away. The building seems deliberately nondescript—a typical office building but with no signs whatever on it—apparently because ICE doesn’t want to advertise its presence. But we had good directions.

And we were otherwise well prepared to bond out “Luis,” a Mexican dairy farmer who had been picked up by ICE at a Walmart in Maine while trying to send money back to his family. (We were originally supposed to get his imprisoned brother as well, but the prison hadn’t gotten him on the bus to the court hearing.) We had a bank check for $3,000 from UU Action NH’s Bail and Bond Fund, made out to the “Department of Homeland Security”—the full name, no abbreviations will do. We had the EIN number of UU Action NH. We had lunch. We had reading material. We had a fully charged cell phone, with charger. We were ready for a long stay. We were to drive Luis back to Manchester, where we would meet a driver who would take him to his temporary host home in Montpelier, Vermont. We were part of an elaborate rescue plan to take an innocent man from a notoriously bad situation at Plymouth, whose warden has been compared to Sherriff Joe Arpaio.

The federal building in Burlington, MA.

There was one thing we did not have—Luis’ “alien number,” or prison ID. And that one flaw nearly doomed the whole plan. We had been told that we needed the number and that it would be sent to us—but we never followed up to make sure it had been sent. Without it, we could get only a blank stare from the staff person in charge. Knowing Luis’ name did no good. The number is all.

But we did have a good smart phone which we used to eventually get the information, even though the waiting area had no Wi-Fi. And we did have an ally from the Bail and Bond Fund, Livia Gershon, who knew we were going to Burlington and helped us from New Hampshire. Livia thought of calling the host family in Vermont, hoping they would have Luis’ birth date and number.

Meanwhile, I searched my email and found the contact person of Luis’ lawyer, who had been copied on one message I had. I Googled and got her complete contact information and texted her.

At the same time the host home sent the information to Livia, who sent it to us: a number that ended in “206.”

The lawyer then texted me that she would be in her office and could send me the information in 15 minutes. I made the mistake of telling her not to bother—I already had the information. This mistake cost us perhaps 30 minutes.For when I took the host home’s “206” to the staff person it wasn’t correct. The host home must have made a transcription error. We were still stuck, and I texted this to Livia.

I also texted the lawyer that I needed the number after all. The host home texted Livia that Luis’ brother’s number ended in “204.” Perhaps the two numbers had gotten confused. I was reluctant to go back to the robotic ICE staff person and decided to wait for the lawyer. But Edna convinced me to give it another try. Lo and behold, the staff person was human after all, searched a bit on her computer and discovered the actual number was neither “204” or “206” but “205”! One thing we had done well was to take two people—because team thinking helps (really five people, counting Livia, the host home, and the lawyer; six including the person, Nancy Pape of the UCC Bond Fund who did the overall planning and arranged the transportation).

Only then did the lawyer text me the correct 205 number.

We had arrived about 10 am. By now it was after 1, and we still had to wait further for the staff person to go through a process before our bank check was approved. But it was, and finally the paperwork was complete, and Luis was sent for. We still had a long wait. We conversed with the workers operating the security scanning. We read. We shivered in the cold room. I charged my phone. We talked with someone from B.I.J.A.N., a Boston organization that does what we do but on a much larger scale.

Luis wasn’t released to us until after 4 p.m.; the office was shut, and we waited outside in the cold. We met Luis. Despite our paltry Spanish, we did understand one word he said over and over: “contento.” Luis was happy and our bureaucratic struggles did not matter in the larger scheme of things. We took him to a nearby restaurant to get him real food after prison food.

We sent a photo of a beaming Luis to Nancy Pape. We then braved the Friday rush hour and got Luis to his ride in Manchester about 6:30 p.m. He arrived at his host home in Vermont late that night. Vermont is the site of many dairy farms.

It all worked after all. It was worthwhile after all. Team thinking plus a smart phone can overcome obstacles. The Bail and Bond Fund is one of the best things UUANH is doing. It is action as well as talk. I am ready to go back to get Luis’s brother.


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