Before we jump into what to do if you are worried about your immigration status, it might help to take a look back at the recent immigration raids that have been happening around the United States.
In the last month, an immigration raid in the areas surrounding Houston provoked fear and concern in the undocumented immigrant community and from immigrants’ rights advocates.
Prior to this recent raid in areas surrounding Houston, ICE had conducted raids in Austin, Texas and surrounding areas. ICE described a raid in the Austin area in February as part of an “Enforcement Surge.” However, speculation developed that the raid was actually a form of punishment against the city of Austin after its sheriff limited her office’s cooperation with ICE.
A Federal Magistrate Judge in Travis County stated that ICE had indicated that it would be conducting a specific enforcement operation in the area as a response to the sheriff’s policy.
In April, another raid resulted in over 150 arrests. The motivation for these raids can be traced back to President Trump’s crackdown on immigration and his executive orders. The current administration has made clear its hostility to so-called “sanctuary cities.”
In January, President Trump issued an Executive Order aimed at public safety which eliminated federal grant funds for "sanctuary cities" – cities which have stated that they will not enforce federal immigration laws. Essentially, these cities do not require local law enforcement to ask about people’s immigration status.
After President Trump issued the executive order, Santa Clara County, California, the City of San Francisco, and other jurisdictions filed suit to enjoin this Executive Order. In late April, a Federal Judge issued a nationwide injunction blocking enforcement of President Trump’s order.
ICE raids and the fight over sanctuary cities have understandably sparked fear among undocumented immigrants, and even immigrants with authorization to remain in the United States. Undocumented immigrants have reason to be concerned.
As the raids in the Austin area show, even in sanctuary cities, a person without authorization to be in the United States can be arrested, detained, and placed in immigration proceedings or removed.
What To Do If You Are Worried About Your Immigration Status
Here are some things you can do if you’re worried about your immigration status:
Know your rights
You have a right to refuse entry. ICE must have a judicial warrant signed by a judge in order to enter your home. If an agent only has an warrant issued by ICE (Immigration Customs Enforcement), they cannot enter your home without permission.
If an agent or officer comes to your home and states that they have a judicial warrant signed by a judge, ask them to slip it under the door so you can see it and check to see if it is actually signed by a judge, and if the name and address of the person listed on the warrant is correct. If it is not signed by a judge, or it does not list a person in your home or your address, you have a right to refuse entry to the agent.
You have an absolute right to remain silent. Simply state to the agent that you do not wish to speak. Additionally, you have a right to refuse to show any foreign identification documents.
Information is available on the American Civil Liberties Union's website.
Get a Lawyer
You are not required to have a lawyer represent you in your immigration case, however, the immigration system is complex. It is important to have a specialized, experienced attorney advocating for you and helping you understand your options.
ICE officers, USCIS customer service agents, officers at USCIS INFOPASS appointments, and court personnel are not able to advise you about your immigration matters. Your immigration case is important and you need someone dedicated to your case.
If an agent comes to your home without a judicial warrant and you refuse to permit the agent to enter your home, seek legal advice immediately. To determine what actions you may be able to take to protect yourself.
If you are detained, you have a right to speak to a lawyer. It is recommended that you do not sign any documents until you are able to speak to a lawyer and review them. You can also request that your nation’s consulate be contacted. The consulate will often be able to assist and may be able to help you to get a lawyer.
If you are concerned about your immigration status, start gathering documentation so that you have it ready and can provide it to an attorney for review. Your immigration options may depend on the date(s) you entered the United States, your criminal record, whether you have family members, particularly a spouse, parent or child who is a U.S. citizen or Permanent Resident. Some of the items that are helpful are:
Proof of your time in the United States: Entry documents or stamps in your passport, or if you do to have these items, other evidence of your presence in the United States, such as apartment leases, pay stubs, school records, bank account statements, or tax filings
Proof of family members in US who are citizens or residents: Copies of U.S. passports or naturalization certificates (if U.S. citizens) or Permanent Resident Cards of your relatives, and marriage certificates and birth certificates to show family relationship
Documentation of your Immigration history: Notices from INS, USCIS, Customs and Border Protection or any other government agencies and anything issued by a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you have ever been in immigration court, you should also gather any documents from immigration court. If you do not have your records, they can be requested through a Freedom of Information Act request, but these requests may take months. It’s a good idea to start getting information in advance of taking any action regarding your immigration status.
Criminal records: Copies of documents from any criminal cases (even dismissed criminal cases) are important. Having these records available for review will help the attorney to determine your immigration options and may you save time and money.
Documentation of hardship to your spouse, parent or child(ren): This can include documentation of any medical conditions, including doctor’s office or hospital records and copies of any prescriptions issued, copies of children’s school records and vaccination records, and notes or records from any counselor, psychologist, social worker or other professional who has treated or advised one of your relatives.
Documentation of any crimes committed against you or others in which you helped with an investigation. Information about any crimes committed against you is important because an attorney can help determine if you qualify for a U visa for victims of certain crimes. Also, if you have information about crimes that were committed against others that you witnessed or crime investigations in which you cooperated, this information may be helpful for your immigration case.
If you have any police reports from incidents in which you were a victim, a witness, or helped with an investigation, or correspondence from law enforcement, it is important to keep these and present them to your attorney for review.
Resolve Unfinished Business
If you have unpaid tickets or outstanding warrants, seek an attorney to help you resolve these issues. If you have unpaid child support or unpaid taxes these issues may arise during an immigration court case and may affect your ability to stay in the United States.
Any warrant for your address can also bring you to the attention of ICE, so it’s important to get legal help in resolving these issues.
If you are unsure about whether you have to file taxes or whether your taxes were correctly filed, get professional help from a CPA or Enrolled Agent to determine if you need to file a tax return and make sure your tax returns are properly filed.
If you have tax returns that were not properly filed, you can file to amend them. If you do not have a taxpayer ID number and this is preventing you from filing taxes, tax a professional can assist you with applying for one.
Immigrants: Educate Yourself Before You Travel Internationally
If you are undocumented, your status has expired, or have any criminal history, consult with an experienced immigration attorney to determine your immigration options. You may also find our travel guide uesful:
Traveling internationally may materially change your options for getting legal status or returning to the United States. Even if you are a permanent resident, you may be detained upon your return to the United States if you have committed certain crimes after becoming a resident.
If you have any pending applications with the Department of Homeland Security or other government agency, consult with an attorney before planning any international travel to determine whether travel will affect your ability to return to the United States.
Finally, all travelers should be aware that increased scrutiny is occurring at U.S. ports of entry – both land borders and airports. Non-U.S. citizen travelers have limited rights at U.S. ports of entry and should seek legal counsel before traveling to prepare for any issues that may arise during their return. All travelers, including U.S. citizens, should be aware that their electronics and social media may be searched.
Scrutiny of immigrants appears to be increasing as a result of President Trump’s executive orders and state level legislation like Texas SB4. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has also changed some of its policies regarding prosecutorial discretion, and the U.S. Department of State is in the process of requiring additional information of visa applicants.
With all of these changes taking place, it is important for anyone concerned about his immigration status to consult with a specialized immigration attorney to go over the options and prepare the best possible case. If you would like to schedule a consultation with the Law Office of Kathryn N. Karam, P.C., please click here: