More Fake News at the Washington Post

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, a “pseudo-event” is “an event produced by a communicator with the sole purpose of generating media attention and publicity. These events lack real news value but still become the subject of media coverage.”

When it comes to immigration coverage, the mainstream media offers up a steady diet of pseudo-events. And the Washington Post is one of the worst offenders – particularly when it comes to baseless criticism of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The title of a recent piece in the Post histrionically proclaims, “ICE Is Holding $204 Million in Bond Money, and Some Immigrants Might Never Get it Back.” Much like the criminal courts throughout the United States, ICE allows immigration violators to post a cash bond, as an alternative to being held in custody. The purpose of the bond is to ensure that immigration violators show up for their hearings before the U.S. Immigration Courts.

The veiled implication throughout the article is that ICE is somehow preying upon poor Hispanics who don’t speak English:

The post states that, “Numerous immigration attorneys said the system for reclaiming the funds is mystifying and nearly impossible to navigate without a lawyer or English-language proficiency, and some who pay the bonds are unlikely to see the money again.”

But that claim isn’t remotely true. The refund procedure is actually quite simple. Once an Immigration Court proceeding has been completed, ICE issues a notice confirming that the immigration bond has been canceled. The person who paid the bond then sends the ICE Bond Unit a letter requesting a refund, accompanied by a copy of the bond cancellation notice and a copy of the bond receipt. The whole process is significantly less complicated than filing a basic tax return.

The Post also claims that, “While criminal defendants typically can pay a bondsman 10 percent of the set bail amount to gain release, in the immigration system about 90 percent of bonds require cash for the whole amount upfront.”

However, that’s an outright misrepresentation of the bond process. In all jurisdictions that use bail bondsmen, the bail amount set by the court must be rendered in full. Bondsmen pay that sum, up front, in cash. The defendant hands over 10 percent of the total. When defendants show up for their next hearing, bondsmen keep the 10 percent – as a fee for loaning the bail money – and reclaim their cash from the court.

In reality, there’s a cottage industry of immigration bondsmen who furnish immigration bond money. Here’s just one example: Action Immigration Bonds. But, the fact is, many aliens don’t want to use bondsmen – because, in order to avoid forfeiting cash they have posted, bondsmen will locate absconders and turn them over to ICE. Of course, the Post doesn’t mention that.

What about that $204 million pool of cash ICE is supposedly holding onto? The Post, implies that ICE is inappropriately holding money owed to released aliens. But that is far from clear based on the information cited.

In fact, in many cases, the individual who posted the bond simply hasn’t requested a refund. According to the Post, “The person who posted the bond money might move across the country or even out of the country; they might lose the original paperwork required to reclaim the money back, creating additional hurdles; the obligor might die.”

It’s also worth noting that, assuming an average bond amount of $5,000, ICE’s bond fund contains money associated with roughly 40,000 aliens. That may seem like a large number. But the Immigration Court has a backlog of over one million cases. That means ICE has been unable to issue bond refunds only to a very small proportion of the millions of immigration violators currently in the system.

Perhaps the Washington Post should expend more effort investigating the facts? But that would interfere with its ability to create buzz-generating, immigration-related pseudo-events.

About Author


Matthew J. O’Brien joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.

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