DHS Hits Undocumented Immigrants with Fines of Up to $500,000

By Shani Saxon Jul 03, 2019

Undocumented immigrants are facing another harsh attempt by the Trump administration to deter immigration at the Southern Border. 

NPR obtained government documents that show The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent fine notices to some undocumented immigrants for "failing to depart the U.S. as previously agreed.” 

Lawyers for a 42-year-old woman named Edith Espinal Moreno supplied NPR with a letter their client received from Lisa Hoechst, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer. "It is the intention of ICE to order you pay a fine in the amount of $497,777," the notice read. Moreno is currently living in sanctuary at an Ohio church ever since she was ordered removed by an immigration judge two years ago. 

These letters are timed to coincide with the Trump administration’s promise to conduct immigration raids after July 4. The President made the announcement Monday (July 1) as he signed legislation that will provide $4.6 billion in aid to the Departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security to improve inhumane conditions at border detention facilities. 

NPR received a statement from ICE agent Matthew Bourke, who points to the Immigration and Nationality Act as justification for imposing the extremely high fees. The agency insists the law allows them to demand "civil fines on aliens who have been ordered removed or granted voluntary departure and fail to depart the United States."

"ICE is committed to using various enforcement methods—including arrest, detention, technological monitoring and financial penalties—to enforce U.S. immigration law and maintain the integrity of legal orders issued by judges," Bourke told NPR.

He explained some immigrants may receive a "Notice of Intention to Fine" before receiving a 30-day period to respond. A formal decision regarding the fee gets made after the 30 days. 

"They want to scare me," Moreno told NPR of her fine notice.  “…They know I am in sanctuary. And they know I don't have this amount of money."