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Deportation Fears

Local immigrants seek legal advice

Rumors are flying in the immigrant community: What is going to happen to undocumented members of the Lane County community under Donald Trump’s presidency? In the Portland area, the Immigration and Customs Service (ICE) has stepped up raids and arrests since January. 

In February, ICE announced that it arrested more than 680 foreign nationals during targeted enforcement operations aimed at “at-large criminal aliens, immigration fugitives and re-entrants.”

Undocumented immigrants are wondering how they can protect themselves and their families, while others are wondering how they can help. 

During the election Trump called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and said he would take a hard line on immigration. Five days after his inauguration he signed an executive order that said, in addition to convicted criminals and those arrested for criminal offenses, almost any immigrant living in the U.S. illegally could be a priority for deportation.

Raquel Hecht, an immigration law attorney who serves on the board of Grupo Latino de Acción Directa in Lane County, says the main change is that, under Obama, ICE left people alone if they didn’t have a criminal record, while under Trump, ICE will now take undocumented immigrants they come across, regardless of criminal background.

Hecht says that GLAD has received numerous calls from people offering their homes as sanctuaries for immigrants. Local churches and temples — many of which are sanctuaries — have gotten similar calls.

Hecht cautions there might be legal liability if a volunteer were to harbor people who have warrants out for their arrest. 

GLAD is analyzing how to use this community support in a way that best fits the needs of the people; the group is also trying to make sure people can stay in their own homes, Hecht says.

Joel Iboa of Oregon immigrant rights group Causa says damaging paranoia is ensuing from rumors of ICE raids. That leads to a Catch-22: How do immigrants lead their lives and still protect themselves? Iboa is hearing of people who are “scared to go to work, take kids to school or go get groceries.”

Hecht points back to the ICE raids here in the 1990s and says a common scenario involved the man as a main breadwinner in the family getting deported, leaving the wife and children broke and homeless. “These are our American citizens we are traumatizing in this way,” she says of the U.S.-born children left behind. “We are creating a whole class of traumatized people who are American citizens.”

Iboa suggests Eugene-based Civil Liberties Defense Center’s “know-your-rights” trainings for immigrant communities as a resource. The training is conducted in person by the CLDC and available via a video on the group’s website. Centro Latino Americano offers know-your-rights trainings as well.

One thing to know, Iboa says, is that “if ICE comes up on your door, it’s your right not to open the door.” 

The CLDC warns not only to keep the door closed — ICE officers cannot enter if you do not let them — but also recommends to say out loud that you don’t want to answer questions. Don’t just shake your head, the CLDC says, politely but firmly respond, “I would like to help you but I don’t feel comfortable answering these questions.” 

The CLDC says if the ICE officers claim to have a warrant, ask them to slip it under the door (or through the mail slot).

Driving infractions are a common way people are stopped and searched by the police, the CLDC says.

For families who are concerned about possible deportation, Iboa and Phil Carrasco of GLAD point to a packet available at Centro Latino Americano that helps families to track financial information and bills and to make decisions such as whether to keep their house, sell it or rent it. 

Many families are also establishing a power of attorney so someone at home can make decisions in the case of a deportation.

Iboa that says right now it’s important to establish a system of trust and community backing. “Latino families rely heavily on families for survival,” he says. “It’s important to know your community has your back.”

It’s also important to know that the situation might not be as dire as it appears. Hecht says that while the way Trump has gone about controlling immigration has struck terror, “from my perspective as an immigration attorney, we don’t expect the majority of people to be targeted.”

Centro Latino Americano can be reached at centrolatinoamericano.org and 541-687-2667, 944 W. Fifth Avenue, Eugene. The Civil Liberties Defense Center is cldc.org and 541-687-9180. And search for Grupo Latino de Acción Directa on Facebook.