Although Russell Immigration Law Firm hopes that you will never be in a situation where you or your family feels insecure and afraid, we recommend taking steps to prepare yourself for the possibility of detention, deportation, or other immigration problems. Knowing your rights and making an emergency plan are two such steps that will take away part of the fear and stress about the future. In addition to these suggestions, the lawyers at Russell Immigration are here to help you find your legal solutions and move through the immigration system.
Do You Know Your Rights?
“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.”
The rights that a police officer announces to a person at the time of arrest are called the Miranda rights. When a person is questioned by a police officer, they can often feel frightened, intimidated, and/or nervous. When an officer reads you your Miranda rights, he or she is reminding you that, whether you are just questioned or taken into police custody, you are not powerless.
You have the right to remain silent, and you have the right to speak with your lawyer before you talk to the police. However, it is very important to be confident in your rights and stand up for them, because police and immigration officers often use strategies which make you feel like you have no options. Even if you clearly tell the police that you want to remain silent or speak with your lawyer, they may continue to ask you questions. You do NOT have to answer their questions. If you say, “I want to remain silent” or “I want to talk to my lawyer”, the police are required to stop questioning you. If they don’t stop, they are violating your rights, and you can later ask a judge to refuse to accept (“exclude”) any evidence they obtained this way. Even after you are arrested or detained, the judge is the only person who can order you to answer questions.
According to the US Constitution, you also have the right to be safe in your home against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” When police or immigration officers come to your home, you do NOT have to open the door or give them permission to come inside. In order to come into your house, an officer should show you a paper called a “search warrant” that is signed by a judge.
Finally, if you are not a US citizen, you also have the right to know how any criminal charges and convictions can affect your immigration status. This is extremely important if you are choosing whether to plead guilty to a crime in order to make a deal with the court (also known as a “plea bargain”). If your criminal lawyer does not know how accepting the prosecutor’s offer in a criminal case will affect your immigration status, then he or she MUST discuss this with an immigration attorney to in order to represent you correctly.
Rights in the Immigration System are NOT the Same as in the Criminal System
When the police tell you what your rights are, they are giving you a warning that anything you say after that point will be used against you in a CRIMINAL trial. However, at any time when you are speaking with police, especially immigration officers, any information that you give can be used in IMMIGRATION court or when applying for immigration benefits. It does not matter if they didn’t warn you. Therefore, it is VERY important that you KNOW your rights and that you USE them to protect yourself from negative immigration consequences. When you speak with police officers or any other government officials, DO NOT lie or give them fake documents, like a driver’s license or permanent resident card, because that information will be used against you later and may even cause you to receive additiojnal very serious criminal charges.
It can help to carry a “know-your-rights” card that you can give to the police as soon as they stop you. The card tells police that you want to remain silent and will not answer their questions until your lawyer is present.
The biggest difference between the immigration system and the criminal justice system is that, in the criminal system, you have the right to a free lawyer if you cannot afford to hire one yourself. While you have to right to be represented by an attorney in the immigration system, you DO NOT have the right to a free lawyer if you cannot afford to pay to hire one. If you are detained by immigration, you still have the right to have a lawyer with you and the right to talk with an attorney before you sign any documents. If you can’t afford to hire one, there are many who are willing to provide some immigration representation “pro-bono” (at no cost to you). Russell Immigration Law Firm maintains a list of some of these attorneys. If you are detained by ICE and are not already working with one of the attorneys from our office, we may be able to connect you with a pro-bono attorney who can help you seek a bond (or a bond reduction).
Make an Emergency Plan
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In addition to knowing your rights, many negative consequences can be avoided through careful emergency planning. You should create a plan to protect your family and possessions (like your car or home). Preparing for the worst scenario can help you to feel more in control, less afraid of what might happen, and stronger in the face of pressure from an ICE officer.
- Memorize phone numbers for anyone you may want to call if you are detained, because the police or ICE may not let you use your phone after you are arrested.
- Keep all important papers together in one place and tell someone that you trust where to find them. Important documents will include: birth certificates, marriage certificates, passports, immigration documents/paperwork, papers related to criminal matters, medical records, and instructions for medicine.
- Have an emergency fund that can be used to pay bills and other expenses in your absence.
- If you have children who are less than 18 years old, choose someone that you really trust to take care of them. Memorize that person’s phone number. An attorney can help you prepare and sign a document called a “power of attorney” to give that person temporary legal power to make decisions for your children’s school and well-being in the event you are unable to care for them.
- Don’t forget to make plans for a neighbor to care for your pets.
- Choose someone who will be in charge of telling your employer that you will not be at work.
Reach Out to Community Organizations
With all of the news about President Trump’s agenda and recent reports of higher numbers of people being arrested and deported, you might feel worried about the risk of immigration problems for yourself and your family. You are not alone! Louisville has a great network of support for the immigrant, noncitizen, and refugee community, including organizations such as La Casita Center, Doors to Hope, Kentucky Refugee Ministries, and the Americana Community Center. Please also reach out to your neighbors, especially if they don’t seem to have a strong support network. Your help might make all the difference to someone!
In difficult times, we all should reach out to others for mutual assistance and support. Remember, “the people, united, will never be defeated.”