- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Boston financier Monday chose Maryland to officially announced his program to raise bond money for people arrested for being in the United States illegally.

The National Immigrant Bond Fund is being started by Robert Hildreth, 57, who announced the program and a related fundraising campaign at Casa de Maryland, a statewide immigrant advocacy group in Silver Spring.

The fund was officially established about three months ago and has already been used to help 10 of 46 people arrested June 30 at an Annapolis painting company on administrative immigration violations.

Illegal immigrants who are arrested in raids and do not have outstanding criminal violations can apply to the bond fund. Churches, legal organizations or groups such as Casa help connect detainees with the fund. The fund provides half the bail money, and the arrested immigrants must pay the rest.

The fund aims to ensure that immigrants have access to the court system. Advocates say immigrants are too often sent directly into deportation proceedings without an opportunity to argue their case. They say the fund also is a way to build public opposition to raids, keep families together and bring another voice into the debate for immigration reform.

A New York-based nonprofit, Public Interest Projects, oversees the fund, which is supported by several national advocacy groups and religious leaders, including three Catholic bishops.

Organizers aim to raise $500,000, said Mr. Hildreth, owner of International Bank Services Inc., which buys and sells loans worldwide.

So far, the fund has helped bail out about 100 people, he said. Their bonds ranged from $1,500 to $38,000.

After the raid at Annapolis Painting Services , the fund contributed $40,000 to help the 10 people, who provided $48,000.

Ira Mehlman, a spokesman with the Federation for American Immigration Reform in Washington, calls the program a risky undertaking.

“There really ought to be some reconsideration about how people are bonded out in immigration cases because there’s a high number of people who don’t show up for their hearing,” he said.

Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum in Washington and a member of the fund’s committee, said the chance of someone absconding is eliminated “because they have their money invested in their freedom as well.”

Mr. Hildreth began his initiative in 2007 after hearing reports of immigrants being shipped to a detention center in Texas following a federal raid of a factory in New Bedford, Mass.

He contacted Greater Boston Legal Services, which provides legal help to low-income people, and offered to help with bond money if the detainees could also contribute something. Mr. Hildreth said he gave $130,000 to the families of nearly 40 New Bedford detainees, who pitched in $100,000.

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