09:27, May 24 70 0

2018-05-24 09:27:13

 

A gay-owned company is exploiting immigrants. So why are we praising them?

It sounds like a nice feel-good story. A gay-owned company that arranges bail for detained immigrants interceded on behalf of Zachary Cruz, the brother of the alleged Parkland school shooter, after Cruz was arrested for trespassing on the school grounds.

Thanks to an assist from Nexus Services, Cruz was offered the chance to move to Virginia, where he would be monitored and have the opportunity to rebuild his life. The company also filed a lawsuit on Cruz’s behalf, alleging mistreatment when he was in jail.

But looked at in a different light, the tale feels like a standard PR tactic by a firm seeking to burnish a questionable reputation.

Nexus Services, founded by Mike Donovan and his partner Richard Moore, has been criticized by immigrants rights advocates for being akin to a payday lender. Its bail service, called Libre by Nexus, allows immigrants to gain their freedom–at a cost.

The detainees sign a contract charging them $420 a month for a monitoring bracelet. In addition, immigrants have to pay Nexus as much as $4,000 up front. It’s steep at any price, but for minimum wage workers, which many detainees or family members are, it’s a really high price to pay.

And if they can’t pay the bill, the company revokes the agreement and sends victims back to ICE facilities.

Cruz would also have to pay for his freedom while being dependent upon the corporation for his new life in the state. If he doesn’t please the corporate owners or can’t afford the cost of his monitoring, he would also return to jail. It’s not clear if Cruz has a job waiting hundreds of miles away so he can afford to pay the fees.

All of this has made Nexus a profitable company–and one that has attracted the attention of three state attorneys general and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The attorney general in Virginia, where Nexus is headquartered, is interested in potentially “deceptive conduct and misrepresentations in connection with immigration bond services.” The CFPB was similalry interested in “possibly deceptive or questionable practices to extend credit in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act.”

Nexus has vigorously denied the charges, saying that its contracts are fair and willingly agreed to by those who sign it. The company filed a lawsuit seeking to dismiss the CFPB probe as overstepping the agency’s authority and says it is cooperating with the state investigations.

Donovan defends his business as providing an essential service for detained immigrants. “I care about our clients,” chief executive Mike Donovan told the Washington Post. “It would be awesome to not have to charge them any money, but that’s not really the system we live in.”

Nexus’ website and social media channels feature testiomonials from immigrants who praise the company for its services.

The company has been aggressive in pushing back against threats to its business. It filed a $1.2 million lawsuit in Virginia against the Augusta County sheriff, a county investigator, the county commissioner of revenue and a local bail bondsman, alleging conspiracy, defamation and harassment.

Nexus eventually dropped the lawsuit, but last March a federal judge ordered the company to pay half the defendants’ legal fees because Nexus acted in “bad faith” and made “frivolous claims.”

Donovan himself spent time in jail when he was 19 after being convicted on six felony charges. According to the News Leader, a newspaper in Virginia, Donovan has at least ten convictions between 1998 and 2009 for passing bad checks or obtaining money under false pretences. Donovan told the paper that “I did something wrong, and I paid for it.”

The controversy around Donovan and Nexus hasn’t stopped LGBT groups from taking money from the company. Nexus was a sponsor of Equality Virginia’s 2017 annual fundraising dinner.

Based on complaints she’s received from immigrants, Rep. Norma Torres (D.-CA) has introduced a bill in Congress that would curtail Nexus’ billing practices.

Torres says detained immigrants “are desperate, and out of desperation, they are jumping into contracts they don’t truly understand.”

But with Republicans in control of Congress, there’s little chance that Torres’ bill will advance. In fact, the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigrants may be a boon to the company’s bottom line.

Certainly, the appointment of Mike Mulvaney, a vocal opponent of CFPB, to head the agency didn’t hurt the company any. Within weeks of Mulvaney’s appointment, the agency suspended its investigation into Nexus’ practices. 


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