Immigrants: Know your rights!

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As I See It

By ELPIDIO R. ESTIOKO

Immigrants, legal or illegal, have their rights! At this time of the year where the present administration is having a crackdown on illegal immigrants, people must be aware of their legal rights, so they won’t panic and succumb to arrests or detention by immigration officers (ICE).

They may not know it, but even illegal immigrants have their rights they can invoke when facing arrest wherever they are! It is a must they know their rights, so a group of lawyers who are members of the National Association of Filipino American Lawyers (NAFAL) and the Filipino Bar Association of Northern California (FBANC) have launched an information drive to reach out to as many immigrants as possible in the Bay Area/Northern California educating them of their rights in times of arrests or apprehensions.

Last week, I had a chance to meet and talk to Atty. David Mesa, Atty. Jennifer Sta. Ana, and other FBANC members at Seafood City, Seasons Market, at Landess Avenue in Milpitas, CA who conducted a free legal clinic in Milpitas.

They were joined by Milpitas City Mayor Rich Tran, Councilmember Atty. Garry Barbadillo, and City Commissioners Ray Maglalang, Evelyn Chua, Mike Bilbao, and Elpidio R. Estioko.

After the Milpitas free legal clinic in April, Atty. Sta. Ana said there will be free legal clinics in San Jose for June and July. The Know Your Rights project is the first venture of the 30-year-old lawyers’ group FBANC which was founded in 1980. FBANC has a set of volunteer attorneys, according to Sta. Ana, with their own line of specialty who are ready to assist and help immigrants in their immigrations concerns.

Atty. Mesa, former president of FBANC, and his group distributed immigration flyers containing important information on immigrants’ rights titled Know Your Rights (Alamin Ang Inyong Mga Karapatan translated by Lolita Andrada Lledo of Pilipino Workers Center for Tagalog Translation)). In an email, he told me it was Atty. Lorna Garcia, president of Filipino Bar Association of Northern California (FBANC) and Atty. Sta. Ana, also a member of FBANC and director of legal clinics who planned, coordinated, and implemented the Know Your Rights advocacy. While Atty. Mesa is not handling immigration cases, he “… knows a number of folks who I can refer folks seeking advice…”

In the Tagalog flyer where the lawyer volunteers are distributing in supermarkets and grocery stores in the Bay Area/Northern California where many immigrants shop and congregate, it spells out their rights when confronted by authorities. The flyer informs them not to answer any questions pertaining to their immigration status when confronted in their place of work, homes, or while driving. They also inform them not to sign any document without speaking to a lawyer even if the authorities will apprehend them or put them to jail. And finally, you don’t have to plead guilty to any criminal case filed against them without consulting or talking to a lawyer because this may have effect on their immigration status.

Should the authorities go to your house, the flyer continue, don’t open the door! You have to remember that ICE can tell a lie who their identities are.

Stay calm and don’t tell a lie… just tell them you refuse to answer their questions. Or tell them you will invoke your right to remain silent… and nothing more.

And… if ICE personnel insist on entering your house, tell them you didn’t authorize them to search your properties or your belongings.

Should ICE personnel stop you in the streets or in any public place, remain to be clam. If possible, if it is safe to do it, take pictures or video or write down your encounter with them. Ask them if they are apprehending you or placing you to jail and don’t answer their questions. If they tell you they are not arresting you, ask them if you can now leave the place.

Also, don’t bring with you any document, the flyer continues, telling you where you were born; don’t bring your passports, birth certificate or consular ID. Bring instead, local ID with your picture in it, drivers license, school ID or work ID. Also carry with you proof that you have been living in the US before February 2014 such as a copy of your telephone bill or electric bills. Don’t bring any fake documents.

The flyer likewise inform the immigrants that if they and/or their families are being arrested by ICE personnel, tell them that you want to talk to your lawyer. Don’t answer their questions or sign any document without the presence or the knowledge of your lawyer.

The contents of the flyer, however, does not serve as a legal advice but for information purposes only. Immigrants need to consult an immigration lawyer for legal advice. Atty. Sta. Ana said “if immigrants need help/assistance and referral for legal assistance, they need to contact FBANCinfo@gmail.com. “The association,” Sta. Ana explained, “within our network, we have a network of volunteer attorneys with their own specialties”.

While the crackdown is on, there is a positive event on the flipside of the coin for illegal immigrants. According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, there are more than one million undocumented immigrants who got their driver’s licenses. This is based on Assembly bill 60, authored by then-Assemblyman Luis Alejo in 2013, where it required California DMV offices to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants as long as they can prove their identity and residence within the state. The law has led to 1,001,000 undocumented immigrants receiving licenses as of March 31 but doesn’t give the licensees authority to drive outside of California or fly across state or federal borders.

We, however, should not be confident because there are recent reports that a large number of undocumented immigrants are being rounded up by ICE personnel in many states in the country today. The present administration is escalating its drive to rid the nation with illegal immigrants.

Let us remember though, we have our legal rights and we should know them in order for us to be protected and not mistreated.

By the way, not speaking with authorities, remaining silent, or not signing documents are based on our 5th Amendment rights under the United States Constitution. Not giving permission to enter our house is likewise based on our 4th Amendment rights under the United States Constitution unless they show you a warrant to enter, signed by a judge or magistrate, with your name on it.

Know your rights! Choose to exercise your constitutional rights!

(For feedbacks, comments… please email the author @ estiokoelpidio@gmail.com).

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