Herring Takes Action to Protect Immigrants From Predatory Lending

By Ashley Spinks Dugan

February 23, 2021

Herring and two other attorneys general filed the lawsuit.

RICHMOND – ‘Libre’ is the Spanish word for ‘free.’ Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, along with the attorneys general from Massachusetts and New York, along with the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), were quick to highlight the irony of that fact during a press call Monday morning.

During the call, the multi-state coalition of Democratic attorneys general announced they had filed a civil lawsuit against Libre by Nexus in Virginia’s Western District. Libre is a middle-man agency that posts bond for immigrants trapped in federal detention as they await a hearing. But in return, the company saddles those immigrants with outrageous monthly fees and forces them to don GPS-tracking ankle bracelets. 

Immigrants pay Libre each month, under the impression that they’re paying off a loan in the amount of their bond. However, that’s seldom the case, the lawsuit alleges. Libre by Nexus “exploits these individuals and forces them into confusing and misleading contracts, oftentimes in a language they do not even understand,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring explained during the press conference.

Immigrants are led to believe that Libre is an arm of federal law enforcement; that wearing the ankle monitors is a condition of their release, Herring said. He added if they don’t pay the monthly rental fees, it’s implied they’ll be arrested or deported. In reality, Libre has no such authority to enforce immigration law. They’re just “preying on the fears of immigrants” for the sake of profit, Herring said.

Lawsuit Follows Herring Investigation

Herring started investigating Libre by Nexus, which is based in central Virginia, in 2017. The lawsuit filed Monday covers alleged violations committed between 2014-2017. Herring said the lawsuit represents “the culmination of years of work” by his office and others. 

In Dec. 2017, various attorneys general demanded that Libre by Nexus hand over internal documents as part of an investigation. Libre refused, but the states sued and won in court. Those internal documents revealed information about specific victims of Libre’s predatory practices, Herring said. 

The attorneys general of Virginia, Massachusetts and New York are not alone in pursuing action against Libre by Nexus. In July 2020, the company settled a $5.5 million suit with the California Insurance Commission. The terms of the settlement required Libre by Nexus to cease transacting immigration bonds in the State of California. The company also had to phase out the use of GPS ankle monitors, and issue credits to clients still in arrears with Libre, according to reporting by the Staunton News Leader. 

Libre Officials Deny All Allegations

Libre officials deny all of the allegations. In a statement given to Dogwood, Libre President/CEO Mike Donovan said he looks forward to his day in court.

“Libre by Nexus is committed to fighting for immigrants scarred by the torture of “civil” immigration detention,” Donovan said. “While we have fought to release tens of thousands of immigrants from detention, especially during the last four years, the AGs have taken time and money to investigate our company. These same AGs have defended their police and prison guards in abuse cases, some of which have been funded by Libre. The result of their years-long investigations is a poorly drafted complaint that rehashes allegations the company has successfully defended in three different legal actions. They are still defending the corrupt prison guards.”

Donovan also argued that Herring and the other AGs ignore detention centers when the federal government’s involved.

“From Buffalo to Farmville to Suffolk MA, immigrants are tortured while Herring, James and others conduct a shadowy investigation into the only company helping the immigrants they claim to be protecting,” Donovan said. “Libre by Nexus welcomes this action as finally these inquiries can be brought out of the shadows and into one courtroom. When Libre funded lawsuits against Virginia to insure prisoners’ rights were protected, and the AG defended the state’s conduct, we prevailed. When Libre funded lawsuits in NY to end the scourge of youth solitary confinement and the AG defended the state’s conduct, we prevailed.”

SCC Settles With Libre

In December of last year, Virginia’s State Corporation Commission settled with Libre for nearly half a million dollars after accusing the company of acting as an insurer without being licensed by the SCC’s Bureau of Insurance. 

Libre by Nexus is not authorized to act as a bail bond provider. Instead, it effectively operates as a security company via its ankle monitors. Essentially, Libre is promising immigration courts that its immigrant clients will show up for court dates—because the company is tracking them. 

According to David Uejio, acting director of the CFPB, the lawsuit filed Monday seeks an injunction against Libre by Nexus. That would halt any ongoing activities considered potentially illegal. It also requests damages and restitution for victims of Libre’s predatory loan practices and the imposition of civil monetary penalties, Uejio said. 

“No amount of money will ever compensate for the years of mistreatment Libre’s clients endured,” Herring said, but attorneys general can prevent future victims and enact some form of justice.

RELATED: Immigrant Rights Coalition Calls For Sweeping Reforms

Complaints Came From Various Sources

For now, the identities of Libre’s victims are being kept anonymous for privacy reasons. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who joined the lawsuit filed in Virginia’s Western District, said prosecutors were able to identify victims thanks to internal documents and immigrant advocacy organizations. “We received a number of complaints about Libre, and what they did is really, really shameful,” Healey said. Healey said the average bond amount for an immigrant being held in detention is $7,500. Libre charges thousands up-front and hundreds of dollars per month for immigrants released on bond to rent ankle monitors. Some injunctive relief has meant Libre can no longer use the monitors, but that doesn’t address restitution for immigrants who are still deeply in debt to the company. 

Libre’s clients, Healey said, are “out thousands and thousands of dollars and need to be made whole.”

Immigrants Have Faced a History of Abuses

New York Attorney General Tish James said Libre’s exploitation of immigrants is just one example of a string of abuses the community has faced in recent years. “The previous administration obviously, in a number of cases, targeted immigrants and enacted regressive policies,” James said during the press conference. 

These policies, including attempts to target immigrants in the 2020 U.S. Census; the Trump administration’s family separation program and its diversion of funds for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, created distrust, she explained. 

“I believe (President Biden’s) administration has turned the page on that,” she said. The administration “seeks to heal and repair the trust that immigrants should have with the government.”Uejio agreed, saying his goal moving forward is to “sharpen the focus of the Bureau” on racial equity, by addressing unfair lending practices and other issues.

Ashley Spinks Dugan is a freelancer for Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected].

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