Aid organization for detained immigrants becomes nonprofit

Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project aims to increase likelihood of relief from deportation

Natalia Espina (from left) and Julia Zalenski, both co-founders of Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project, at the Iowa City
Natalia Espina (from left) and Julia Zalenski, both co-founders of Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project, at the Iowa City Public Library in Iowa City on Friday, May. 12, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — With Donald Trump’s promise from his campaign and into the Oval Office for the deportation of immigrants living in the country illegally, the actions of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency have taken headlines in recent months.

Because of this, the founders of an Iowa City-based organization have made it their mission to help prevent the deportation of some in Eastern Iowa.

The mission of the Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project is to raise funds through community donation in order to post bond for individuals held in detention by immigration officials.

“Having counsel in immigration is the single most important factor in whether you're going to succeed in your immigration case or not."

- Julia Zalenski

Attorney with the Johnson County Public Defenders Office and co-founder of Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project

Founded in January by three Iowa City women — Natalia Espina, Elizabeth Rook and Julia Zalenski — the organization’s mission is to help individuals remain in the U.S., particularly those who couldn’t afford to post bond for themselves.

“We don’t think being poor should get you deported,” said Zalenski, an attorney with the Johnson County Public Defenders Office.

The organization was officially classified as a nonprofit in late March. A celebration will take place on Friday from 7:30-10:30 p.m. in RADinc in Iowa City.

The Project

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, agents have arrested 21,362 immigrants from Jan. 20 to March 13 of this year, a nearly 33 percent increase from the same period in 2016, according to a Washington Post report.


Reasons for individuals being detained can be complex, varying from an overstayed visa to inadequate documentation. A non-citizen arrested by ICE can be eligible for a bond, allowing them to be released from custody while going through removal proceedings.

Bond for their clients would cost between $3,500 and $7,000, Zalenski said. However, the organization has decided not to sponsor someone with a criminal history.

The bond project organizers plan to prioritize two factors when considering paying someone’s bond: their ties to the local community and the likelihood of relief from deportation.

Espina, program manager Healthy Kids School-Based Health Clinic in Iowa City, said their model is self-sustaining; when a court case concludes, the bond amount would be returned to them, “whether or not it’s a negative outcome.”

The Impact

Rook, a specialist for the dropout prevention program Iowa’s Jobs for America’s Graduates based in City High School, said paying bond is “buying people time” to either prepare for removal or change the outcome.

Immigrants in detention are often held far from home, making it difficult for them to seek legal aid or gather evidence in their defense, according to a recent ProPublica report.

“Having counsel in immigration is the single most important factor in whether you’re going to succeed in your immigration case or not,” Zalenski said.

Posting bond for these individuals allows them to continue staying with their families, Espina said.

“Even if the ultimate outcome is deportation, you’ve had time to prepare, you’ve had time to do it in a way that is hopefully minimally traumatic for your family,” Zalenski said.

The Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project also contends that deportation has a negative affect on a community.

Indeed, the National Bureau of Economic Research released a study in November that states the contribution of unauthorized workers to the economy is “substantial,” and amounts to nearly $5 trillion over 10 years.

The Next Step

The bond project organizers are still working out logistics for their organization, and only fundraised about $2,000 so far, Espina said.

Each founder of the bond project have her own reasons for starting the nonprofit, but they have the same goals going forward: continue building the organization’s network to make a difference in local immigration court cases.

Not only that, but Espina said they hope to continue education people on issues surrounding immigration law.

“When people really understand that they’re talking about people, not some kind of broad system, I see very significant changes in attitude,” Zalenski said.


The Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project is hosting a Launch Party to celebrate its recent approval for an official 501(c)(3) status, Here are the details:

— What: Launch Party

— Where: RADinc, 123 E. Washington St., Iowa City

— When: 7:30-10:30 p.m.

— Details: The event will include food, drinks, speakers and a raffle.


— For more information, visit the organization’s website at www.communitybondproject.org.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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