What is the price of freedom?

  • Posted by Tyana Smith
  • On January 17, 2020
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When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech at the Washington Monument, he saw a country seared with painful injustices and hate. But he also recognized the great potential for equality, love, and freedom. Now more than 45 years later, how are we doing as a nation in realizing that potential for a just society for every man, woman, and child? Have we created a world in which the most vulnerable are allowed to live freely with dignity and respect?

One look at our massive and expanding US immigration detention system makes it painfully clear that we are miles away from achieving Dr. King’s dream of freedom and equality for all members of the human race.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. marches for freedom

“We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have a Dream” speech, August 28, 1963

Last month Heather, our director of investor relations, caught a rare glimpse inside the Imperial Detention Center in Calexico, one of the most isolated facilities in the country. Inside those cold prison walls, Heather, our partners at Freedom for Immigrants, and volunteers from the Safe Passage Project met with nearly 150 women and men who shared their hopes and aspirations of freedom, only to be denied that freedom simply for daring to ask for help.

Here is the painful truth:

  • Since the early 1980s, the number of immigrants detained in the U.S. has soared from 30 to over 50,000 adults and children on any given day.
  • Approximately 6,527 individuals are incarcerated in immigration detention in California each day—that number is even higher in Texas, which incarcerates a staggering 15,852 people per day.
  • Although immigration detention can be triggered by criminal charges, immigration detention is an administrative—or civil—form of confinement, not punitive. This administrative mandate means that those detained are denied the safeguards of the criminal legal system, including access to legal counsel and loved ones, the ability to challenge detention through the courts, and limitations on the length of detention.
  • 48% of immigrants who work with Freedom for Immigrants are held in detention for 2 to 4 years. Punishment for criminal outcomes in immigration is deportation. But being held for years clearly veers into punitive territory. Can you imagine waiting for 4 years at the DMV? This is the equivalent, and it’s just as absurd
How Freedom for Immigrants’ bond fund keeps people out of detention

“The best thing you have in life is your freedom. So when they take that away from you, they take away everything.”

Noelie, released from detention on a $3,000 bond paid for by Freedom for Immigrants’ national bond fund

We’ve partnered with Freedom for Immigrants to use finance as a tool for change.

Traditionally, much of philanthropy has focused on improving the lives of our most vulnerable populations. And philanthropy is vitally important. But the injustices taking place at our southern border are unprecedented, and they require unprecedented action. That’s why impact investing has an important role to play.

Impact investing can unlock urgently needed finance quickly by using a catalytic model. The Freedom100 Fund combines the power of impact investing with Freedom for Immigrants’ proven national bond model to give immigrants a fighting chance at freedom by paying their bond and reconnecting them with loved ones and legal services, at no cost to the family. Immigrants like Noelie who are released on bond with community and legal support are eight times more likely to win their immigration cases.

As Dr. King addressed the nation on the steps of the Washington Monument 47 years ago, he inspired the world to challenge the status quo and deliver on our country’s promise of a just and equitable society. Once again, we are being called to take action—will we choose to bravely stand up for fairness and humanity in the face of deplorable conditions? We must take swift, decisive action—we cannot sit idly by as people are stripped of their dignity, freedom, and essential human rights. For thousands of men, women, and children, the stakes have never been higher.

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