California Lawmaker Pushes Bail Reform to Protect Immigrants

LOS ANGELES (CN) – A California state senator and immigrant rights advocates rolled out a bill Monday that would strengthen consumer protections and extend guaranteed language access for immigrants and non-English speakers who use bail and bond services.

For immigrants and non-English speakers in deportation or criminal proceedings, bail and bond services are often the only way to finance getting themselves or their loved ones out of detention.

California state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, and immigrant rights advocates announced a bill Monday to extend enforcement of consumer financial protection laws to the bail and immigration bond industry. (Martin Macias, Jr. / CNS)

State Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, told reporters Monday that in transactions with bail and immigration bond companies, consumer financial protection laws are not applied equitably.

“When it comes to immigration law and when there’s family that has someone in jail, and a right to post bail and argue their case – a right everyone has in this country – guess what, the rules are different,” said Hertzberg. “Consumer protection rules don’t apply.”

Under the current paradigm, Hertzberg said companies require people to sign complex legal documents and pay exorbitant fees for bail and bond services, often doing so without legal representation, putting them at great financial risk.

The bill would require bail and bond companies to translate legal documents and guarantee transparency in their delivery of services.

Hertzberg announced the bill Monday alongside members of the Coalition for Humane and Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) and the California Low-Income Consumer Coalition.

Angelica Salas, CHIRLA’s executive director, said immigrants the organization works with primarily speak only Spanish and are left vulnerable to deception and scamming by bail and bond companies.

“People fighting deportations have enough worries and then have to deal with these unscrupulous practices,” Salas told reporters Monday. “Many are in detention centers in vulnerable situations. Instead of helping these companies create a more difficult situation for them.”

It’s common for companies to also track their clients with electronic satellite-linked ankle bracelets, according to CHIRLA.

Diego Cartagena, director of legal services nonprofit Bet Tzedek, told reporters that low-income families are most dramatically impacted by deceptive practices and high interest fees, which can reach $10,000 for a $100,000 loan.

“For far too long, bail bond companies have operated in the shadows,” Cartagena said. “Contracts are confusing and unfair, and families in desperate straits are presented contracts in one language only.”

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