Multimillionaire Helps Undocumented Workers Post Bail
New America Media, News Report, Wendy Sefsaf Posted: May 23, 2008
Editor's Note: Robert Hildreth is a multimillionaire immigration advocate who has helped bail out undocumented immigrants who have been arrested in ICE raids. Now he wants to create a national fund for the purpose. NAM contributor Wendy Sefsaf reports from Washington, D.C.
Traducción al español
WASHINGTON -- Robert Hildreth, a self-made multimillionaire who built his fortune trading in Latin American bonds, wants to create a national fund that would help post bail for undocumented workers seized by immigration authorities.
Hildreth began posting bail out of his own pocket after seeing what he considered to be "un-American" images on TV of shackled workers being deported. Hildreth , the son of high school teachers, called the Greater Boston Legal Services and told them to contact him if they needed help posting bonds for undocumented workers.
After doing this a few times, in a few different states, Hildreth decided his program should go national. His idea is to create a non-profit bond fund that would match 50 percent of bail funds in most cases, and provide 100 percent bail only in extreme cases. Advocates say this is crucial for workers who are coerced into signing deportation orders before talking to a lawyer or having their day in court. Helping them post bond enables them to get out of detention, contact a lawyer and regroup with their families.
By matching the funds, Hildreth is helping legal service groups and others get the ball rolling. But having the other half matched by the families themselves, Hildreth says, forces them to have a stake in the outcome and makes an individual less likely to “jump bail.”
“Immigrants are the greatest savers in this country. If I put up half of the funds, the families can usually come up with the rest,” Hildreth observes. “For example, I paid $130,000 to bail out the immigrants rounded up in the New Bedford raids -- and within three weeks they came up with $130,000 of their own. I know the money is there and there is an extended family structure that is able to pool the necessary funds.”
He also thinks that his approach appeals to our innate love of a bargain. “Everybody loves a deal,” Hildreth says. “If I went into Best Buy and shouted, 'I will pay for half of everything you buy,' that store would be cleared out in no time.”
Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles affirms the need for a bond fund. “This is about poor people having their day in court,” she says. “People have to understand that these workers are not appointed lawyers, not read their Miranda rights. They are swept up, usually taken to another state, interrogated and then later told they can hire a lawyer if they can find one.” She adds, “What Bob Hildreth has done is an amazing example of what people of conscience need to do in these horrible times; he is giving people their liberty and a reason to hope.”
The national bond fund has more than $150,000 in pledges so far from previous bonds that have been returned to Hildreth with interest. These funds will be used to post future bonds and he is now hoping to build a significant fund. “When you pay for a bond, it is not a contribution. You get your money back with interest which returns back to the fund for the next person who needs it.” So far, no one helped by Hildreth has jumped bail.
Setting up a bond fund is not a new concept. The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund provided bail money and legal assistance for civil rights demonstrators throughout the 1960s, including during the 1961 freedom rides led by the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
Hildreth also sees the bail money as a lifeline. “We have families whose loved ones were arrested in Massachusetts and then sent to detention centers in Texas. The communication is cut off," he explains. "What we are finding in raids is that people don’t know their rights. They are forgoing their due process in the first 48 hours out of fear, and agree to be deported without having consulted an attorney. It would be wonderful if the word caught like wild fire that immigrants do have rights and furthermore you might find some help from me.”
He thinks of immigration much like an economist would. “In America we should always be finding ways to match immigrant money,” he says. “Their propensity is to save. Immigrants sent home $60 billion last year in the form of remittances. My feeling is that we have a group of immigrants floating on a sea of money, how can we get them to invest more of it here?”
He has tried creative ways to do just that even before his recent foray into immigrant rights, by supporting immigrant education initiatives. “This summer, 15 of the brightest Hispanic high school sophomores in Lynn, Massachusetts will be creating educational accounts. They will put up $250 and I will put up $500 and we will build up from there.” Why do we need to match their funds? “Because otherwise there is such a pull from Latin America to send every extra dollar down there. We know the highest drops outs are Hispanics, so creating these accounts early is going to get them going to college.”
One might wonder why a descendant of Irish immigrants and Puritans who settled in Boston more than three centuries ago worries about immigrants coming to America today. “I am very pro-immigrant and it comes more from an American ideal than from being a Mother Theresa type. I think immigration is the only model America has ever known. We have never known a day, a minute, where we haven’t accepted immigrants. They provide huge economic benefits to us. The 12 million undocumented workers in this country spend billions of dollars every year in supermarkets, on rent and in taxes, etc. I have no idea what it would be like to yank them out by the root, and I wouldn’t want to take that risk.”
However, the economist also has a philosophical bent on what it means to be an American. “I have a different view of what makes up the border of the U.S. It’s not dirt but ideas. So if you have a native-born American who hates capitalism or freedom of people to move and find work, I think that is less 'American' than the guys born in Latin American who have taken on our American ideals hook, line and sinker.”
Aside from running his financial company and planning the bond fund, Hildreth is busy calling the supermarkets that allegedly benefit from undocumented workers in the Boston area. He is asking them to support a local immigration group that is holding their annual gala and contacting other groups in Iowa that are working with immigrants recently detained during a raid at a meat-packing plant. “I want them to know there is help here, if they need it,” says Hildreth.
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