Meet the Bond Fund’s New Full-Time Coordinator
Apr 27, 2021
The Fair Fight Bond Fund was launched by volunteers, and spent its first three years as a volunteer-run organization, with informal support from staff at WAISN (the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network). But in order to build on the early successes of the Bond Fund, this past August WAISN decided to invest in hiring a full-time staff person, Vanessa Reyes, dedicated to supporting the Bond Fund and its recipients. She recently sat down with Barbara, a long-time Bond Fund supporter, to talk about her new role.
B: Vanessa, I understand you grew up in Illinois. Can you tell us what experiences brought you to your current job at WAISN as the Coordinator of the Bond Fund?
Vanessa: Yes. I came to Seattle in August of 2015 with a Lutheran Volunteer Corps, an organization group, similar to AmeriCorps that gives youth work experience in social services. My service year was with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP). I worked in their Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) unit. That unit supports immigrants applying for immigration relief based on the Violence Against Women Act, which is a law that has provisions for granting status to immigrants—regardless of gender—who have been survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking, and other crimes. After fulfilling my year in that program, I continued on at NWIRP for four more years.
B: You must have liked NWIRP, choosing to stay there for five years.
Vanessa: Yes, I did. NWIRP does really wonderful and necessary work in providing free immigration legal services to immigrants and refugees. I left because I never had much ambitions to do legal work and I was feeling the emotional toll of listening nearly daily to the really heavy and traumatic experiences that my clients had to share. After nearly five years, I was ready to do something different.
B: What attracted you to the Fair Fight Bond Fund Coordinator role?
Vanessa: I was aware of the Washington Immigration Solidarity Network, (WAISN), and had been following their work as they are close partners of NWIRP. And I really believe that people shouldn’t be in immigration detention. The immigration system is full of injustices overall, but the aspect of detention is the worst of it. This job was a great opportunity to help folks get out of detention.
B: What have you been focused on since starting in August of 2020?
Vanessa: When I stepped in, there wasn’t a dedicated full-time staff at WAISN to work on the Fair Fight Bond Fund, I’m the first in the position. I focused at first just on setting up the various procedures and policies of the program, getting them written down and formalized.
B: Can you give a few examples of the procedures you’re talking about?
Vanessa: One of the first areas we focused on was the bond fund steering committee, whose very important job is to make decisions on the requests we receive for posting bond. We’ve decided on criteria for what they would prioritize when making decisions. So if someone has any health issues, financial hardship, dependents outside the detention center, that is taken into account as well as if they have a particularly hard time in detention because of their religion or gender identity for example.
Also, at that time the steering committee had lost a few of its members so I put time into recruiting new ones. It now has seven members, with three new ones who are from Central and Eastern WA. The other four are from Western WA. Three of the seven have been in detention before themselves. We want the committee to be as much as possible representing people who have had that experience or otherwise been affected by the immigration system.
We’ve also tried to speed up our response to applications. The steering committee has agreed to meet weekly when there are applications to review and we have established a process for how they will receive the applications, meet, and vote. I receive all requests for bond. On Mondays, I send any requests that have arrived in the past week to the steering committee. They meet on Tuesdays or Wednesdays to discuss and vote through an online form. When the steering committee makes a decision, I am able to follow up with the community member and get the bond posted so the community member is released as soon as possible.
B: How many people has the Fair Fight Bond Fund been able to release from Tacoma?
Vanessa: 40 community members from 17 different countries have been released with the support of the Fair Fight Bond Fund since the fund began in late 2018.
B: Of the 40 released, do you know how their court cases came out?
Vanessa: Most of the cases are still pending. It’s hard to say for how long they’ll be pending. The majority still live in Washington and they will have their cases heard in Washington, but some have moved to other states where they maybe had family or some other connection. Before the pandemic, the immigration courts system was already backed up and since the pandemic, it’s been delayed even more. Right now, most cases are scheduled for 2022 or 2023. A few are scheduled for the end of 2021 but they might get rescheduled further. The positive is that at least the community members are not in detention while waiting and are able to be with family and lead their lives.
B: What other priorities are you working on, in terms of how the Bond Fund operates?
Vanessa: Another important one is how best to keep in touch with immigrants when they are released. That is one of the main reasons this role was created, to be able to offer that connection after they are released. Addresses, jobs, family status, court dates, lawyers all can change at any date and WAISN needs to keep in touch so that they don’t miss important information about their court case.
B: Yes! Clearly having the detainee appear at their court hearing is crucial for the return of the bond fee to the fund, so it can be used to release other detainees.
Thank you so much for your time, Vanessa, and for all of your hard work for the Bond Fund. We look forward to keeping in touch in the months ahead.
Vanessa: Thank you, and a big thank you to all of the contributors reading this who helped get us where we are today.