In late February, a coalition of lawyers gathered at California State University Bakersfield to inform community residents about their rights, regardless of their immigration status. Here are some key takeaways and seven Do’s and Don’ts from immigration lawyers in Kern County.
DO make a plan
In the event that you or a family member is detained or deported, you need to have a plan in place to avoid panic. Children and family members should know whom they should go to for help, have the phone number of your immigration attorney on hand, and take steps to fight a possible deportation order.
- If you have family members who are U.S. citizens, ask them to get a passport immediately. Only U.S. citizens can get a U.S. passport. This will make it possible for U.S.-citizen children and family members to pass back and forth between countries, and visit relatives in the event that someone is deported.
- Make sure you have an adult or guardian who is able to care for your children in the event that you and your spouse get deported. This should be someone you can trust with sensitive information. This person should know your full name, your date of birth and, if you have a green card, they should know your alien registration number, which can be found on your green card.
- Plan ahead with finances, bank accounts, and have contacts who may assist family members in the case of an emergency. A good idea is to have a list with your immigration attorney’s number and the legal guardian(s) who may care for your children.
- You can also have a letter drafted, nominating a guardian to care for children. It is as simple as writing this letter and having it notarized. This letter is VERY important. If you don’t take this precautionary step, then the state of California will get custody of the U.S. children. This letter should also state that you authorize this person to obtain medical records and enroll children in school. Access to health and medical records is vital. Lastly, make sure that the guardian knows where to access birth certificates and important documents for your children.
There are radio announcements and ads of notarios (notaries public) all over town. This has led to some confusion among residents in Kern. Keep in mind that notarios in the United States are not the same as notarios in Mexico. In Mexico, they are trained professionals who can give you legal advice. Notaries here don’t go through the same extensive education and should not give you legal advice. In the United States, they can only certify documents (such as your guardianship letter).
If you need legal advice, speak to a professional attorney instead. If you have been a victim of fraud by a notary, you should immediately seek a reputable lawyer. (This won’t have any effect on your immigration case.)
DON’T hang things on your rearview mirror
It is very common for people to hang objects like lanyards or rosaries from their rearview mirrors. This gives police officers the right to pull you over for violating a vehicle code. In addition to this you are advised to ensure that all of your car’s equipment is working, including lights, signals and mirrors, as any of these malfunctions can lead to an officer pulling you over.
DO remain silent
You absolutely have the right to remain silent when being questioned by any officer, whether they are police or ICE. Lawyers advise people not to answer any questions about their legal status, their country of origin, how long they’ve been in the United States, or anything related to immigration until they speak to an attorney.
DON’T open the door, or consent to a search
Officers need either a search warrant or your consent to search your vehicle or your home. Do not give your consent under any circumstances. If the officers say they have a search warrant, ask to see it first. Don’t open the door; ask them to slide it through the mail slot or under the door. A search warrant must be signed by a judge, it has to specifically name your address and name you (first and last name) in order to be valid. In the event that they do have a valid search warrant, you should exercise your right to remain silent until you can speak to a lawyer.
DO seek an attorney if you are harassed or a victim of wage theft at work
Regardless of your immigration status, you are entitled to certain protections in the workplace. If you are a victim of harassment or wage theft at work, you are encouraged to call the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. They do not ask whether you are a citizen. Here in California, we have the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. Our taxes go to this labor board and lawyers are provided to help you with your case, at no cost to you. In addition, you are entitled to the same benefits of workers compensation if you are injured at work.
DO file a complaint against any harassment or bullying at school
Many cases of bullying and anti-immigrant rhetoric have emerged in classrooms and schools across the nation. This type of harassment should not be tolerated and educators are required to intervene should they witness this. If your child is a victim of bullying, write a formal written letter of complaint to the school. Administrators must respond promptly and take measures to prevent bullying.