U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is holding on to more than $200 million in bond money that belongs to immigrants who have been in the agency’s custody, cash that has yet to be returned to thousands of immigrant families or the U.S. citizens who bailed them out, according to data obtained through open-records requests.

The unreturned bond money stood at $204 million as of July 31, 2018, according to the data, which immigration-law clinics at Stanford University and the University of California at Davis obtained and shared exclusively with The Washington Post. The pot of money grew by $57.3 million between September 2014 and July 2018, the data shows.

More than 18,000 bond payments went unclaimed in that four-year period, according to the data.

Read the Stanford and U.C. Davis immigration report

Although the trust fund — which the Treasury Department maintains — cannot be used for any other purpose, getting the money back to immigrants and their friends and families has proved a difficult and lengthy process. ICE officials said the agency makes multiple attempts to reach the people who posted the bond, but paperwork and checks mailed to them sometimes are undeliverable or receive no response, and it can be impossible to find the people if they have moved out of the country. Those who do submit claims, ICE said, receive their money within a month.

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