Over the past decade, IMAN has remained engaged in the struggle for the fair treatment of immigrants by being both an active organizer and an ally in movements for comprehensive reform of America’s broken immigration system. In partnership with the Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL), Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), we started the month of November returning to the issue in the most practical way possible: A Know Your Rights Workshop. On Saturday, November 5, we welcomed over 40 undocumented Latino and Arab residents to our office for a three hour training that provided resources and information, dispelled myths about dealing with law enforcement, and gave participants a better understanding of what could be done in their personal situations.
The workshop began by establishing that everyone in the room, despite their immigration status, is an invaluable asset to the human community and deserves to be treated with a basic level of dignity. We explored the dehumanizing effects of the term “illegal alien,” which destroys the necessary compassion with which law enforcement officials should be serving their communities by placing undocumented individuals outside the realm of “human” and makes them the “other.” When participants took a moment to share their experiences of dealing with immigration officials, it was a sad but moving affirmation that this type of workshop is absolutely necessary, even as we continue moving toward serious reform of the system.
One young woman told the story of her home being raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at 5am. ICE officers were told immediately that her father, who was working two jobs, had already left for the day yet they proceeded to ravage the family’s home in an aggressive and unruly search. An even younger girl spoke of her father being arrested and detained while they were driving home from school. She was left at the police station until other family members were able to bring her home. Imagine a room full of people with the same sort of scarring memories.
These types of stories create a sense of fear and shame in the undocumented community to which no person or group of people should be subjected. Having personally dealt with this, Alaa Mukahhal and Cindy Agustin gave a stirring presentation on youth empowerment and finding alternative methods of challenging the immigration system. Their insistence for undocumented individuals to assert themselves in the efforts for reform was bolstered by the legal advice that should help these individuals protect themselves and their families.
With the expertise of MALDEF lawyer Aaron Siebert-Llera and IYJL leader Rigo Padilla, participants were given a comprehensive review of their legal rights when dealing with law enforcement officials and the current state of deportations at the national, state and local levels. Participants were presented with very practical advice such as what to do when pulled over for a traffic stop, what to do if their home is raided, having a plan ready in case you or someone in your family is detained by ICE, and what to do and what not to do if you are arrested by the police. One answer that everyone appreciated was to the question, “how do I gain legal status in America?”
The workshop ended with questions and answers, and an opportunity for everyone present to break bread together. While our goal is to hold another workshop in the near future, we wanted to be sure that everyone present not only left with their own notes but a packet of resources that they could share with family and friends, and use for themselves in the case of an emergency. It included copies of each presentation, a listing of organizations that provide free support, as well as bona fide lawyers that have a good reputation and history of helping people fight deportation cases.
Our goal moving forward is to continue providing resources that help undocumented individuals know their rights and protect their families even as we ultimately fight for a comprehensive reform of America’s immigration system.