Bail Business Accused of Preying on Immigrants

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal class action accuses a company that bails immigrants out of detention of imposing “crushing financial terms” and “GPS shackles” on vulnerable migrants, while touting a mission of family reunification.

Two Honduran immigrants sued Libre by Nexus in federal court on Wednesday, claiming the Virginia-based company falsely represents association with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to intimidate clients into paying exorbitant monthly fees.

“LBN misrepresents its association with ICE in order to confuse detainees and their families by creating the impression that LBN is an official organ of the U.S. government, with the power to determine whether a detainee is released or detained,” lead plaintiff Juan Quintanilla Vasquez says in the 28-page complaint.

The company claims its mission is to “help those without a voice in the immigration system” and to reunite immigrant detainees with their families “without having to pay the full amount of their bonds,” according to its website.

But Vasquez et al. claims LBN continues to collect high monthly sums from its clients even after they have paid the full amount of their bonds in nonrefundable fees to the company.

LBN charges a bond security payment of 20 percent, “at the highest end of the going rate in the industry,” according to the complaint. Additionally, immigrants must pay an $880 nonrefundable fee up front and lease a GPS monitoring ankle device for $420 per month.

The complaint describes the GPS device as a “heavy shackle” that causes bruising and forces the wearer to be tied to an electrical outlet for hours each day for charging, “none of which is disclosed at signup.”

It claims LBN provides virtually all of its written materials in English, despite knowing that “virtually none of the detainees they target are able to understand and read English.”

LBN also fails to inform detainees that moving to ICE’s non-detained docket means their cases will move more slowly, and that they could be paying LBN monthly fees to lease “burdensome” GPS devices for years, according to the complaint.

The company also charges clients a 50-cents-per-day insurance fee for their ankle monitors but never discloses that fee in Spanish language documents or receives affirmative consent to charge the fee, according to the lawsuit.

Vasquez, an asylum seeker who fled gang violence in Honduras, was detained and released from a Houston detention facility in December 2015.

Vasquez says LBN provided him a contract entirely in English, even though he lacks English writing and speaking skills. He was told he must wear an ankle bracelet at all times and that he would be incarcerated for failing to do so, according to the complaint.

He was told any damage to the ankle monitor would result in a $3,000 fine.

Vasquez says he did not understand he would have to pay the $420 monthly fee in perpetuity or that his case would be moved to a slower-moving docket, “meaning he could be required to pay LBN for years.”

He says LBN also failed to disclose that he must be tethered to a wall outlet two hours each day to charge the device, or else it would vibrate intensely. While charging, the device gets very hot, preventing him from sleeping and causing him pain, according to the complaint.

Wearing the ankle monitor has made it harder for Vasquez to work as a day laborer to earn the money needed to pay for the device.

“It has caused plaintiff Vasquez severe leg pain, prevented him from carrying out some tasks like climbing a ladder, and caused him to trip and fall when he was doing yard work,” the complaint states.

Paying high monthly fees for the ankle monitor takes up “a substantial portion” of his modest wages, according to the lawsuit.

Vasquez also accuses LBN of unfair debt collection. He says it called him claiming inaccurately that he had missed two payments and that he “could be incarcerated as a result.”

Co-plaintiff Gabriela Perdomo Ortiz says she, too, was threatened with incarceration for missing payments. She and her husband have had to forgo buying groceries just to make those monthly payments, she says.

Vasquez and Ortiz say they would not have agreed to borrow bail money from LBN had the financial terms and burdensome nature of the ankle bracelets been disclosed “accurately and truthfully.”

They seek class certification, an injunction, restitution, disgorgement and punitive damages for forced labor, peonage, unfair competition, fraud, violations of the California Translation Act, and consumer law violations.

They are represented by Jeffery Kaliel with Tycko & Zavareei in Oakland.

LBN said in an emailed statement Thursday: “We deny, and will vigorously defend, the allegations in the complaint. We are proud of the work Libre by Nexus performs for the immigration community and our employees are 100% committed to this mission.”