The aggressive enforcement of our immigration laws by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in recent months is a stark contrast to the policy of the previous administrations which focused on arresting and deporting legal and undocumented immigrants convicted of heinous crimes such as homicide, sexual assault and rape. Now, even legal and undocumented immigrants without convictions or even criminal charges are detained, questioned, or deported.
ICE raids or operations of ICE to arrest legal or undocumented immigrants has occurred even in public places such as parks, sidewalks and subway stations.
In California, Texas, Oregon, Colorado and Arizona, plain-clothes ICE agents have been seen inside and outside courthouses to apprehend undocumented immigrants. One undocumented immigrant in Texas was arrested while in an elevator in a courthouse. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye of California, the first Filipino-American to hold such a high position, wrote a letter recently to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly about the presence of ICE agents in courthouses scouting for undocumented immigrants. Justice Cantil-Sakauye stated that courthouses should not be used as a place to wait for undocumented immigrants because these people “pose no risk to public safety.” Immigrant advocates have noted that everyone, not just undocumented immigrants, will now fear going to courthouses as victims, witnesses or defendants. This would have an impact on the administration of justice.
In response, Virginia Kice, the spokesperson for ICE stated that the ICE agents were apprehending undocumented immigrants who have prior criminal convictions in the United States. Furthermore, she claimed that ICE agents take every effort to take undocumented immigrants in custody away from public view and this eliminates the safety risks of detaining someone on the street.
In Virginia, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents waited outside a church shelter where undocumented immigrants had gone to stay warm. In response, Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia wrote a letter to Mr. Kelly that this should not be done because Virginia residents cannot be detained without cause or specific allegations of criminal activity.
These brazen operations by ICE agents are alarming and can cause people to panic. Therefore, it is important for legal and undocumented immigrants to know their rights in order to ensure that ICE agents do not go beyond what they are allowed to do under the law. These rights are granted by the United States Constitution regardless of one’s immigration status.
If ICE agents approach you in a public place, the first thing to know is that you do not have to say anything or answer any questions. You must make it clear to the ICE agents that you choose to remain silent. Furthermore, if the ICE agents ask you which country you are from, you can refuse to show documents showing your identity and origin. Do not sign anything and do not give up any of your documents.
If the ICE agents stop you in public, ask if the agents have a warrant signed by a judge to arrest or search you. If they do not have any, you do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings. However, the ICE agent may legally “pat down” your clothes to make sure that you do not have any weapons. Then, ask if you’re being detained and whether you are free to go. If they say yes then calmly leave. If they say no, continue to remain silent but ask to speak to a lawyer. Remember that having a lawyer with you will ensure that your rights are protected. Lastly, you can contact your consulate to ask for help.