Last week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced the launch of CeBONDS, a new system people can use to pay bonds and secure the release of individuals in immigration detention. The new system allows people paying the bond—referred to as obligors—to go through most of the process online without having to make the payment at a local ICE office.
The new system should fix some of the issues potential obligors regularly experience when paying bonds. But ICE must ensure the implementation of CeBONDS does not create new obstacles for people trying to pay bonds to release loved ones from detention. This is why clear and accessible information about CeBONDS is crucial to the success of this transition.
Individuals seeking release from ICE detention on a cash bond must secure the assistance of an obligor who pays the bond amount and ensures that the released individual will comply with the conditions of release. Communities around the country formed special funds to help pay the bonds for community members who could not otherwise afford it. Individual obligors, or representatives of the funds, need to go to the local ICE office to make the bond payment.
All too often, potential obligors encountered difficulties in paying the bond, from a lack of clearly posted hours of operation to inconsistent policies about the form of payments. These obstacles could lead to unnecessary delays in releasing detained individuals. To address this lack of transparency, a group of bond funds and advocacy organizations teamed up to compel ICE to publish information about its bond payment procedures.
The new system allows potential obligors to complete several of the steps required for bond payments online and without the need for visiting a local ICE office. As of April 20, obligors can create an account on ICE’s CeBONDS webpage and follow the required steps. This includes identity verification, uploading documents to verify obligors’ immigration status, and electronically completing the Obligor Contract, Form I-352. ICE confirmed that only U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, certain non-profit organizations, and law firms can pay bonds using CeBONDS.
Once the system verifies these required submissions in the CeBONDs webpage, obligors must go to a bank and pay the bond using Fedwire or ACH, which are systems for the electronic transfer of money. ICE’s informational website states that individuals detained will “typically be released by the end of the day after the bond is approved and signed.”
CeBONDS became operational on April 20. Obligors may still make bond payments in-person until May 31, 2023, but ICE has stated it will no longer accept in-person payments as of June 1.
For CeBONDS to successfully address unnecessary delays in releasing individuals from detention, ICE must make information widely accessible. Unfortunately, ICE announced that it would implement the CeBONDS system on the same day ICE launched CeBONDS—not an auspicious start. Further, the CeBONDS webpage is not featured on ICE’s landing website, requiring obligors to search on ICE.gov for the information.
Questions remain about how ICE will address circumstances where CeBONDS may be inaccessible. For example, obligors without a bank account or who lack the tech savviness to go through the sign-up process may need to seek alternatives. ICE says that after June 1, people seeking an exception to the use of CeBONDS can contact the local field office for guidance. But the agency does not explain the type of circumstances that would warrant an exception.
As the CeBONDS website goes into effect, ICE must be ready and willing to step in to make sure there are no bugs in the system. ICE advises users to send a message to a dedicated email address or to contact a local field office if help is needed. But it is often difficult to reach ICE personnel at local field offices over the phone, making it likely that technical assistance may be difficult to obtain in an emergency. Errors on the CeBONDS website could mean that people who should be released from detention will continue to be detained simply because of a tech issue.
As with the implementation of any technology, success hinges on whether the tech actually works and how accessible it is to those who need it. ICE needs to ensure that CeBONDS’ implementation does not impede anyone from being able to pay a bond because failure to do so can put people’s freedom from detention at risk.
Source: Immigration Impact Blog by the American Immigration Council