Tia Osa, a national organizer with Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), is used to getting calls from people who were swept up in immigration raids. But lately, she’s been hearing from clients who previously would have been low-level priorities for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. One such incident involved a Haitian man who entered the U.S. on “parole”—a dispensation granted at the border to undocumented people who are likely experiencing a humanitarian crisis. The man, who reunited with his wife in San Diego, was picked up in by ICE agents just days ago and is now scheduled for deportation.
“He just arrived recently, and hadn’t even reached the date of his check in with immigration,” says Osa. “He was riding with someone who got pulled over.”
Experts call the deportation of undocumented people who aren’t the intended targets, but happen to be around when immigration officials show up, "collateral damage." The incident Osa describes is exactly the kind that immigrants and their advocates fear will become de rigeur under President Donald Trump’s administration.
A leaked White House memo outlining the Trump administration’s plans to use 100,000 National Guard troops to apprehend millions of undocumented immigrants in 11 states has added another reason for outrage and worry. White House spokesperson Sean Spicer has denied that the administration will follow through on the memo, which was obtained by the Associated Press. But the document dated January 25—the same day that Trump signed his controversial travel ban targeting Muslims—offers another glimpse at the White House's vision of immigration enforcement.
"The escalation of deportation enforcement by the administration is very concerning, but it shouldn’t really surprise us, because it’s not unusual for the government to send the National Guard into communities of color and use militarized force," says Osa. "It will be up to the states to stand with immigrant communities by refusing to deploy the National Guard."
The leaked National Guard memo is, of course, just the latest development. Just five days into his presidency, Trump signed two executive orders that calls for the construction of his long-promised wall along the Mexican-U.S. border; expands the definition of deportable criminal offenses to include people who have not been charged; and bans people—including refugees—from eight majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S.
While federal judges have since blocked the travel ban, a series of ICE raids last week resulted in more than 600 undocumented immigrants being arrested, including a Mexican mother who was held for deportation when she showed up for her annual check-in with ICE in Phoenix. The agency cited a nine-year-old criminal record she had for using a fake Social Security card to get work as its grounds to force her out of the country. This week, news emerged of a young Seattle-area man from Mexico whom ICE detained despite his status as a DACA recipient. Authorities claim that he admitted to gang membership but his attorneys insist that he has no criminal record. Such arrests are a clear break from the Obama administration’s stated policy of concentrating on immigrants with records for violent crimes.
All of this leaves large numbers of immigrants, even those in the country legally, asking what they should do to protect themselves. “The calls are coming from people who absolutely shouldn’t have to worry—people with green cards,” says Jessica Greenberg, a staff attorney with African Services Committee in New York City.
Colorlines spoke with several immigrant advocates and legal experts for practical advice about how prepare for an ICE raid and what to do if it happens to you.
Know and assert your rights.
Zahra Billoo, an attorney and executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' San Francisco Bay Area office, says it’s crucial that you know your rights and that you don’t let your citizenship status prevent you from getting information you need should you encounter ICE or other law enforcement officials. She notes, for example, that people are only required to let law enforcement into their homes or to search their cars if the agent has a warrant signed by a judge.
You should also beaware of how federal agents can insinuate themselves into your home and ask questions that can make you the target of unprovoked suspicion and aggression. This video from Muslim Advocate shows what to do if a law enforcement official comes to your home, including not answering any questions without an attorney.
Billoo advises both documented and undocumented immigrants to attend one of the many free know-your-rights workshops that are happening in communities across the country. Ones given by local universities and well-known immigrant advocacy groups are typically safe to attend. This ACLU flyer in English, Spanish and Arabic and additional information on the organization’s Know Your Rights portal can also help you learn how to handle traffic stops, questions about your immigration status and airport security situations.
Talk to an attorney before you need one.
If you are undocumented, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is not talking to an attorney about your status until you’re in a desperate situation. “They need to have a lawyer on speed dial,” says Billoo.
Jessica Greenberg, a staff attorney with African Services Committee in New York City, adds that a trustworthy immigration attorney can help you determine if you are eligible for relief under a program like DACA or help you figure out what to do if your DACA status is at risk because of an unsubstantiated or low-level criminal charge or conviction like marijuana possession.
Talking with a local attorney can also help you figure out just how law enforcement and other public officials in your areas are instructed to interact with immigrant communities. In sanctuary cities like Oakland, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and D.C., local police typically don’t turn over undocumented individuals to ICE for low-level, non-violent crimes. Police, school officials, hospital workers and emergency service providers have been instructed in the past not to ask about someone’s citizenship status. But, these leniencies vary city to city, and in many parts of the country, police and others are under pressure by local politicians and the Trump administration to work with the ICE, says Greenberg. Still, police typically have less leeway than ICE agents to search or detain you, and if your rights are violated by local law enforcement you will have more legal recourse, Greenberg notes.
If you are picked up, it’s important to be able to get in touch with your attorney should your phone be confiscated. Greenberg recommends memorizing important numbers, and writing them on your arm in indelible ink so you will be able to reach out in an emergency.
Make an action plan for trusted loved ones to follow.
One of the most insidious aspects of ICE detentions is that people often are picked up at or in route to their jobs or expected destinations. And finding a detained person can be challenging since the system often moves people around. It critical to identify a trusted “go-to” person and talk with them about what to do if you are picked up. Osa suggests discussing four high-priority issues for your plan:
- Who will take custody of your children in your absence
- How frequently your “go-to” person should check on you if they haven’t heard from you in a while
- Your full legal name
- Where they can locate important financial information and documents
“A trusted person needs to know your full name and your birthday,” says Osa. “They need to know if you have bank accounts, documents and safe deposit boxes. Someone needs to have access to these resources so they can help and support you.”
Don’t panic, especially on social media.
Raised concerns about ICE raids have led to a lot of panic and false reports on social media about immigration checkpoints, says Aidin Castillo, an immigration staff attorney at Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland. In many cases, what people thought were ICE checkpoints were other uniformed individuals gathered in a particular area.
“I think part of the problem is people don’t know what to look for,” Castillo says. She suggests trying to get a good look at uniforms to see if “Immigration and Custom Enforcement” or "Homeland Security” is written below or somewhere near the police emblem. If you can’t get that close, try taking a photo and sending it to an immigration advocacy group for review. It’s important, Castillo says, to verify whether what you’re seeing is an immigration checkpoint or something different.
Check out these common-sense resources.
- These handy cards in Arabic, Chinese, English, Korean and Spanish explain your rights should ICE comes knocking on your door.
- You can order these free know-your-right cards from the Immigrant Resource Legal Center and check out these multilingual, illustrated guides on how to use them.
- Check out this Spanish version of the ACLU’s video about what to do when law enforcement comes to the door.
- The Immigrant Resource Legal Center’s Family Preparedness Plan in English and Spanish can help your family and friends know what to do if ICE or other law enforcement officials pick you up. Identifying what to do with your children is essential. As Colorlines' publisher, Race Forward, documented in its special report “Shattered Families,” thousands of children have ended up in the maze of foster care after their parents or guardians were deported. While the Obama administration issued a special advisory to ICE meant to address the problem, the Trump administration may not ask ICE to take the same precautions.
- Visit Informed Immigrant and the Immigration Advocates Network to locate free or low-cost immigration attorneys that can help you figure out your citizenship-status options or provide help if you or someone you know has been picked up by ICE.
- Finally, this Black Alliance for Just Immigration toolkit in English, Kreyol and Spanish may help family members and friends figure out how to help people who have landed in immigrant detention facilities.
Shawn Rhea is a New York City-based racial-justice writer and communications expert.