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Company gives 'hope' to detained immigrants — with a catch

Libre by Nexus, which made more than $30M freeing detainees, is now being sued for fraud by former clients.
Reuters

Between October 2015 and September 2016, more than 350,000 undocumented immigrants were detained in the United States. It’s a number expected to skyrocket as President Donald Trump aims to ramp up deportations and move forward on constructing a wall along the country’s border with Mexico.

While countless detainees await their day in immigration court, many qualify for bail, but that remains elusive due to its costs.

That's where Libre by Nexus comes in. Under its terms, an immigrant signs a contract with the Virginia-based for-profit company to pay a $420 monthly fee to wear a GPS device in exchange for their freedom, after also paying the company a percentage of their bail, The Washington Post reported.

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A dozen of Libre’s former customers, who are now suing the company for fraud over the contracts, spoke with the Post about their experience. Many said that Libre employees made threats that their customers would be sent back to detention centers if they didn’t pay the GPS fee.

One former client, Nefi Flores, said he used his life savings to flee from El Salvador to join his wife in Los Angeles. He sought asylum with border agents in Texas and was sent to a center in Tacoma, Washington, and given a $7,500 bond. Because he and his wife had no collateral, Flores spent three months at the facility before he contacted Libre.

In the lawsuit filed last year, which Libre said was unfounded, Flores alleged that he had no idea the fees he was paying went toward the GPS device while his case was still open and not repaying his bond.

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“I care about our clients. It would be awesome to not have to charge them any money, but that’s not really the system we live in,” Libre’s co-founder and CEO Mike Donovan told the Post. “Without us, there is no one to serve them. The (alternative) would be that those people sit in custody.

“I know that we are the only hope that a significant number of those people will have,” he added.

ButFlores, who left El Salvador because of gangs, disagreed.“I fled from my country only to find something here that is even worse,” he said.

A new class-action lawsuit filed by two Hondurans in Northern California alleges Libre “preys on detainees’ vulnerability and limited understanding of English to foist crushing financial terms and GPS shackles” on them.

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Libre has more than 6,500 clients and a yearly revenue of more than $30 million. Despite working on behalf of detainees for several years, it began offering its contracts in Spanish last year. Prior to that, the documents were only in English.

Because of past felonies, Donovan and his partner and Libre co-founder, Richard Moore, cannot be bail bondsmen, so they act as middlemen and rely on the GPS monitors on behalf of the bond agencies.

Despite the pending lawsuits, Libre has big expansion plans, including a $19 million construction that would feature “a museum of the American detained immigrant” at its Virginia headquarters, he told the Post.

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