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Itza Hernandez, 24, was brought to Utah as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico at age 3. She was referred to immigration authorities four years ago after arrests for shoplifting, assault and driving under the influence.
While her immigration case was pending, she was free on bond and missed no court-ordered appearances. But she landed behind bars last week anyway because the insurance company that had backed her bond from Salt Lake City's Beehive Bail Bonds went bankrupt four years ago.
Latino groups assert that 1,000 others were detained because of similar bond problems, although Beehive and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) say about 30 of its clients were affected.
Angry Latino groups protested Wednesday outside of Beehive Bail Bonds' downtown Salt Lake City offices, blaming problems on what they call its reckless use of a bankrupt insurance company to underwrite bonds.
Beehive, in turn, pointed at federal immigration officials for using an insurance glitch as an excuse for the detentions and for refusing to accept the company's cash to free them.
ICE issued a statement saying that Beehive is not following the proper process for bonds and that the federal agency decided to hold Hernandez without bond after reviewing her history of criminal convictions.
Amid the finger-pointing, many undocumented immigrants are languishing in jail for no good reason, said Ella Mendoza, with Familia Trans Queer Liberation, which helped organize Wednesday's demonstration.
"We will not take this anymore," she said. "We have had enough."
Protester Dani Cobian said the problems are "due to fraudulent action by Beehive Bail Bonds." It used insurance company Minnesota Surety to underwrite the bond placed for Hernandez in June 2011 and for many others.
Gary Walton, president of Beehive, said Minnesota Surety later filed for bankruptcy in November 2011. Meanwhile, he said, Beehive "continued to honor its fiduciary responsibility" to ICE for bonds underwritten by that company.
But he said that ICE, in late July, "made a decision to call in all remaining cases indemnified with Minnesota Surety bonds for review."
Beehive first learned about ICE's move in August, Walton said, "when one of our clients was taken into custody by ICE with the explanation [that the] surety bond [was] no longer good."
The company president and ICE say about 30 of his clients were brought in for review. While most were released on their own recognizance, Walton said, nearly a dozen remain detained.
"I offered to replace all remaining Minnesota Surety bonds with cash. ICE ignored this offer," Walton said. "People's lives are certainly being affected by ICE's decision to review these cases four years after Minnesota Surety failed."
ICE, however, said in its statement that Beehive "attempted to pay the bonds in cash. The representative was advised about the correct process ICE uses for bonds."
Cobian said Web searches showed Minnesota Surety had flirted with bankruptcy amid questionable operations since 2008 and that Beehive is to blame for continuing to do business with a shaky company.
Walton countered that "if the considerations were financial, ICE had the perfect opportunity to accept my cash but chose to disrupt lives of these undocumented persons and their families."
ICE's statement said it is requiring proper bonds to release those still incarcerated. But in the case of Hernandez, it "determined that she is a civil immigration enforcement priority and that no bond would be set" because of her DUI and assault convictions.
Areli Hernandez, Itza's sister, said Itza's jailing "has put quite a lot of stress on the family, both emotionally and financially."
Mendoza said the protest was organized, in part, because Itza Hernandez is an activist who has organized past rallies to help others.
"She defends the community. She organizes rallies with us," Mendoza said. "She is undocumented, but she is so bold. She would say things that everybody else would be afraid of saying," so groups are speaking out for her and others now.
ICE said an Oct. 29 immigration court hearing has been set for Hernandez.