Exercise your hands and feet instead of your mouth: Immigration Rights

Following up on my last blog entry, about keeping my mouth shut and not engaging in disputes on Facebook (“flinging poo into the void”), I want to make clear that I do think it is important to be engaged. I just think we should make an effort to do something rather than to engage in endless debate. So this past weekend I attended training to be a Rapid Responder for Alameda County Immigration Legal and Education Partnership (ACILEP). I had signed up for this workshop before my “revelation,” but it was a perfect time.

I was drawn to this training because I worked for eight years as an immigration paralegal, and it was one of the most valuable experiences of my life. It was a privilege beyond measure to be able to meet people from all over the world, to hear their stories, to learn the truth, and to feel that I was able at least sometimes to make a really positive difference in those people’s lives. I really enjoyed it, and I miss the work quite a bit.

While not quite the same, working as an ACILEP Rapid Responder involves responding to ICE raids, to verify the action, and to be an observer. It doesn’t involve direct action or confrontation, but rather documenting everything that happens. As one of the attorney presenters put it: “Justice doesn’t happen in the streets. It happens in the courts.” By observing any violations of the immigrant’s rights and recording them, we provide the attorney with evidence that can be used in court.

While at the training, I got the distinct feeling: Yes. This is what I should be doing. All the yacking on the internet does nothing to change minds and only alienates people. Better to make the difference in even one person’s life. If you are familiar with the starfish story, it’s like the difference between posting online rants about the starfish that get washed up on the beach, or picking up even one starfish and tossing it back into the ocean.

I learned some interesting things at this workshop, that I hadn’t been fully cognizant of even as an immigration paralegal because they so rarely came up. Like that the government has the burden of proving that someone is an undocumented immigrant. They rarely need to prove this, because usually the immigrants give this information up themselves. Should you be an illegal immigrant, by the way, or should you know one, if ICE shows up at your home or workplace or anywhere else, don’t talk to them. You don’t have to tell them your name, don’t tell them where you were born, and if they ask for identification, you don’t have to provide it to them. That gives a rapid response attorney something to work with that can keep you from being charged in the first place, even if you have been arrested.

You also don’t have to open the door to them on most occasions. They need to have a warrant, from the court, and it needs to be signed by a judge and not an ICE agent (they usually carry a warrant to arrest alien, which is signed by an ICE agent and does not give them actual authority to enter your home).  The warrant from the court has to name the person sought and the location and items to be searched. And the information needs to be correct, including the spelling.

The photo in this blog contains the rapid response number for ACILEP. They operate in Alameda County, California, only, although they may be able to refer you to agencies in your locality. If ICE shows up at your door, or your work place, or next door to you, or at a place you are passing on your daily walk, call this number and a team of Rapid Responders will be there. If you are the person ICE is after, the dispatcher will fill out a legal referral form so if you are taken into custody, one of the attorneys will show up at the federal building to represent you.

Immigrants do have rights, whether they are legalized or undocumented. And they are people, human beings with very compelling stories if you take the time to hear them. They all would have loved to come to the United States legally, but believe me when I tell you that the doors are all but closed to most immigrants unless they happen to marry a U.S. citizen while they are still living in their home country.

One of the attorney presenters, himself a DACA recipient whose family is illegal, said that the day after Trump signed the immigration ban, thousands of people nationwide showed up at the airports. His mother called him and said, “Did you see what happened at the airports?” He replied that he had. “Miguel,” she said, “Do you know what that means? That means that they like us.” How important is that? His mother and so many others had been left feeling uncertain after Trump was elected, based in large part on his anti-immigrant platform, and to see the people turn out in support of them meant so much to this mother and so many others like her. If we accomplish nothing more than to let people know that others care, that they are loved, we have accomplished a great deal.

But let’s aim for more, and not for immigrants alone. Lets start picking up the starfish, one by one, and throwing them into the sea.

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as you love yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Leviticus 19:33 (ESV)

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