Illegal immigrants walk free before court date
RAYMONDVILLE - Visitors to a Willacy County town usually stay in one of two places, a motel or a detention center.
Motel manager Pat Lash works just down the street from the Willacy Detention Center. Up to 1,700 illegal immigrants are locked up there. Each weeknight, a detention center van drives a group of illegal immigrants from the detention center to bus stops in Raymondville and Harlingen. They often end up in the lobby of the motel Lash manages.
“I really don’t talk much to the people from India cause I don’t understand what they’re saying,” Lash said. “The Chinese I don’t understand what they’re saying. Russians I don’t understand what they’re saying.”
Lash’s list of motel guests includes people from Brazil, Haiti, Indonesia and Egypt. She says illegal immigrants can fill up to a fourth of the rooms on any given night.
A bail bondsman who asked only to be identified as “Mark” said many of the detainees travel from the Valley to cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.
Mark often sits in the gas station parking lot which doubles as the Raymondville bus stop. “All I do is just arrange tickets for them and I just drop them off,” he said. Mark works for an immigration lawyer. He posts bond for the detainees, waits for them when they’re dropped off, and sends them on the bus.
We wanted to know why people with pending immigration cases are being allowed to walk free. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE spokesperson Nina Pruneda says a judge issues a bond just like they would for a U.S. citizen.
Detainees with a criminal record don’t qualify, Pruneda said. “We make 100 percent sure that the people who are being released into the community are not gonna pose a threat,” she said.
Once the detainees are bonded out, they’re assigned a court date. The latest statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice show 11%, or around 25-thousand people, failed to appear in court last year. That’s a five year low.
In 2005, 38% or more than 100-thousand people didn’t show up. Those who skip court are considered fugitives. The top 5 countries for illegal immigration cases are Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and China amounting to 69% of the total caseload. In fiscal year 2009, more than 65-hundred of those cases ended up in the immigration court in Harlingen. 47% were granted asylum in the U.S. last year.
At the Raymondville motel, Lash said she’s doesn’t mind the foreigners who spent the night. Even if they speak a different language, she says they’re always polite. “They’re happy to be free and go home,” Lash said.