by Libby James
Photos courtesy Francey Liefert
This is the first in a series describing the mission and work of small, lesser-known non-profits in our area. We’ll do our best to share the ways in which these organizations strive to make life better for people in Northern Colorado.
“Ninety-nine percent of undocumented people show up for their scheduled refugee/asylum hearings. They abide by the law and seek to live legally in the United States,” says Francey Liefert, a founder of the Immigrant Freedom Fund. Despite the statistics, people detained by ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and who have the right to a hearing, must remain in detention until they come up with the funds needed to pay a bond allowing them to return to their families and seek legal counsel to prepare for their hearings.
Bond amounts are determined either by ICE or by a hearing judge and Liefert says it is difficult to determine just how the dollar amounts are set. The lowest allowable bond is $1,500 and required bond payments can range all the way up to $20,000.
Liefert has been involved with immigration issues since the time when she lived in California and worked as a teacher of the blind and visually-handicapped. When she moved to Colorado, she continued her concern with unjust immigration practices, participating in an educational trip to the U.S. border with Mexico. “It was an intense experience,” she said.
In 2017 when Liefert learned that there was no dedicated bond fund organization in Colorado, she began to gather information. In conjunction with the sanctuary program sponsored by Foothills Unitarian Church in Fort Collins, she became part of a steering committee formed to see what could be done. Spearheaded by Liefert, the Immigrant Freedom Fund was one of the organizations that came to life as a result. Today IFF is sponsored by Namaqua Unitarian Church in Loveland. The steering committee also had a role in creating ISAAC, the Interfaith Solidarity and Accompaniment Coalition that works to educate the community on immigration issues and facilitates educational trips to the border.
By April 2019, IFF had raised the funds needed to accomplish their first bonding out. Since that time, another 35 people have had their bonds paid by the fund. Once free, individuals have a much improved chance of receiving a fair hearing, outside of the detention center and represented by an immigration lawyer. Their freedom makes it possible for them to return to their families, recuperate from their ICE (Immigration and Customs) experience, seek legal counsel and thereby greatly enhance their chances for a successful outcome.
Recent changes at the Aurora Detention Center, a private, for-profit prison that detains those arrested by ICE, are making it a more difficult and frightening experience for those incarcerated there. A full-time resident doctor position has been eliminated, solitary confinement has been reinstituted, and detainees report receiving spoiled food.
“The Immigrant Freedom Fund is only one piece of the efforts being made to support the local undocumented community,” Liefert explains. IFF works closely with the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Program, Casa de Paz, Fuerza Latina, and other groups concerned with current immigration issues.
“It’s heartbreaking work,” Liefert says. Yet she is pleased to have a platform such as IFF which keeps her inspired and hopeful as she observes the incredible generosity of people who have contributed everything from $5 to $10,000 to the fund. IFF has now raised a total of $143,000, allowing the fund to free a total of 39 detainees. To date, one recipient has completed the legal process and a bond amount of $1,500 has been returned to the fund. Leifert hopes that the organization will be able to raise an additional $100,000 and then, as other immigrants complete their hearings, additional amounts will be returned to IFF and the fundraising process will become less urgent.
In her most recent update, Liefert is excited to report that the fund was able to bond out three individuals in January: among them a woman from Nicaragua in her late 30’s who will join her community in the Southern US, and a transgender man from Honduras who had been treated as the wrong gender by ICE and will join his brother and hopefully his daughter on the East Coast. The most recent person to be bonded out has been living in the Rocky Mountains for five years and is relieved to be back home with his fiancé and child. The Unitarian Universalist congregation in his hometown helped to raise funds for his release. Still waiting to be bonded out are a man from Ecuador with health problems ($3,000 bond), a Dreamer from the Caribbean who did not have the money to renew his DACA designation, ($5,000) and a woman with young children who fears for their welfare ($5,000).
Liefert suggests that faith-based organization or service clubs organize fundraising events. “Money can change the lives of detainees and their families,” she says.
Anyone interested in contributing time or money to these efforts can find detailed information on these and other related organizations through the Internet. Donate to IFF at www.immigrantfreedomfund.org or by mail to Immigrant Freedom Fund, 745 Fifth Street, Loveland, CO 80537.
Other non-profits include:
Casa de Paz offers hospitality to families separated by detention and recently released individuals through visits, emotional support, shelter, meals, phone access, and transportation.
Fuerza Latina, staffed by immigrants, offers trainings, legal clinics and free consultations regarding immigrant rights.
Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy promotes a more humane immigration system and alternatives to detention.
Alianza Norco assists by providing low cost legal services and helping undocumented people to obtain drivers licenses.
La Familia provides early care, education and family strengthening.
La Cocina is a local provider of mental health services.