AG: Lawsuit targets company for ‘exploiting’ immigrants

State Attorney General Letitia A. James, pictured in a file photo from March 28, 2019, is among a group of attorneys general who filed suit Monday against a company for their business practices with regard to immigrants. Byron Smith/New York Daily News/Tribune News Service

HUDSON — A group of attorneys general filed a lawsuit against the company Libre by Nexus for targeting immigrants with tracking devices and misleading contracts.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, along with attorneys general from Massachusetts and Virginia and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced Monday they had filed suit against the company for allegedly deceiving, targeting and exploiting immigrants.

“There’s no question that immigrant communities have served as the lifeblood of New York state as well as this nation, yet Libre by Nexus engaged in deceptive business practices targeting our state’s most vulnerable and marginalized community,” James said. “And for me, what is most egregious about this case, what strikes at my heart, is the inhumane way in which Libre shackled immigrants with homing devices so that they could keep tabs on its investments.”

The lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, alleges the company preys on immigrants held in federal detention centers by offering to pay for immigration bonds to secure their release.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Acting Director Dave Uejio said Libre charges costly upfront fees and hefty monthly payments, which typically amount to thousands of dollars more than the face value of the bond.

“Libre is actually just a middleman between the immigrant detainees and the bondsman,” Uejio said. “Immigrants come to the United States searching for new lives and a chance to pursue the American dream. Instead they are preyed upon by Libre and find themselves trapped in a financial nightmare.”

The lawsuit alleges Libre made clients wear GPS ankle monitoring devices that could not be removed, which caused physical harm and irritation and often did not function. Contracts signed by clients were allegedly confusing and misleading and only presented in English, according to the lawsuit.

“Libre deceived immigrants by leaving the impression that by removing or damaging these tracking devices would result in a felony criminal prosecution,” James said. “To be clear, Libre never had this authority and still does not have this authority today.”

The lawsuit also alleges Libre misled immigrants into thinking their monthly fees were paying off their bond as a debt owed to Libre that would be refunded at the conclusion of their immigration proceedings. Consumers later realize Libre will not refund thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in fees.

The company denied the charges Monday afternoon.

“Libre by Nexus is committed to fighting for immigrants scarred by the torture of ‘civil’ immigration detention,” Mike Donovan, president and CEO of Libre By Nexus, said in a statement. “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 defended in three different legal actions. They are still defending the corrupt prison guards.”

The company has funded lawsuits in New York and other states opposing youth solitary confinement and other detention conditions, Donovan said.

“Libre is proud of its work and believes sunlight is the best disinfectant,” he said. “We plan to vigorously defend this suit and prevail at trial.”

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said the average bond amount financed by Libre by Nexus is around $7,500, and when a person cannot pay that amount, a business like Libre comes in.

The lawsuit also alleges in order to collect fees Libre creates the false impression that it is associated with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or other government entities and that failing to pay fees to Libre can lead to arrest or deportation.

“This lawsuit should send a clear message to all who seek to exploit and take advantage of our most vulnerable and marginalized communities, that we will use every tool in our arsenal to end your unlawful activity and suffering you inflict,” James said Monday. “It’s particularly egregious that they did this for personal gain, personal profit, placing profit over the lives of human beings.”

A federal court in the Northern District of California recently approved a settlement in a class action suit against the company, which has provided some relief to consumers nationwide, but other issues remain, James said.

“It’s specifically the injunctive relief requires the company to make efforts to transition away from those ankle monitoring devices, those GPS monitors by the end of 2021,” James said. “It also imposes a cap on the monthly fees equal to the face value of the bond. but it does not provide a sufficient monetary relief for consumers who have been harmed and that is the legal relief that we are seeking in this litigation.”

Libre by Nexus had not responded to the lawsuit as of Monday morning, but a response is likely forthcoming, Uejio said.

Libre by Nexus opened in 2014 and has 15 offices across the U.S., according to the company’s website.

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