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April 28, 2022

Rights of Immigrants Questions and Answers

Immigrant Civil Rights

Q: Are civil rights only for Americans or does it also include foreigners and immigrants? Kimberly from Nevada

A: Yes, Civil Rights in the United States includes protections for everyone- Americans, visitors, immigrants, myself and you! Civil Rights -within the context of American history- began as a fight for the rights of marginalized groups; beginning as an African-American movement to combat racism, discrimination and segregation in the United States against Black Americans and proved inspirational to Civil Rights Movements that included other POC, such as the American Indian Movement, Chicano Movement, etc. In short, anyone regardless of citizenship, residency or immigration status can “have” Civil Rights in the United States as they are protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. 


Q: If I attend a protest, can I get deported since I am not an American citizen? Clara from California

A: It is possible. But there are many caveats: does the person have a legal right to be here? (i.e. if they have a visa or greencard they cannot be deported). If the migrant is undocumented, this answer is largely up to the policy of any given presidential administration. The law does not protect undocumented people and the prior president, for example, did not place any limits on who the government would target for deportation.

Immigration Reform Law

Q: How will a new immigration reform law help undocumented workers? a High School Student from Arkansas

A: Thank you for your important question. My name is Charina Garcia and I’ve been an immigration lawyer for 25 years. My family immigrated from the Philippines and I shared my immigration story in this video:

In order to answer the question, let me first explain how someone becomes undocumented. In order to enter the U.S., you must have permission to enter either by being issued a visa at a US consulate overseas or being interviewed by a Customs and Border Protection Officer (CBP) at a port of entry such as an airport or land border and granted admission into the U.S. for a particular time period. Those who overstay their visa or those who enter without being interviewed by the CBP are undocumented. For example, a student is allowed to enter to study at a university and then drops out of school and doesn’t continue their studies, the student will then become undocumented. Another example is someone who goes across the Mexico/US border and enters the U.S. without being interviewed by CBP. Currently there are 10.5 million undocumented immigrants who are in fear of being deported and live in hiding.

The last immigration reform was back in 1986 under the Immigration and Reform Control Act which allowed 3 million immigrants to pursue a path towards permanent residency and citizenship. There are many proposed legislations which I will highlight but whether they will pass is difficult to determine since is has been over 35 years since the last immigration reform law was passed.

The U.S. Citizenship Act (H.R. 1177/S. 348) plans to reunite families and create a path to citizenship for the undocumented who are already living and working in the United States.

The Build America Better Act will allow 7 million undocumented immigrants to apply for protection from deportation, work permits and driver’s licenses. If passed the undocumented immigrants would file an application, pay a fee and pass background checks. They must have arrived before 1/1/2011 and lived in the U.S. They will then be issued work permits which are valid for 5 years and can be renewed one time until September 2031.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)/Dreamers was implemented in 2012 and allowed people who came to the U.S. as children to be able to request deferred removal/deportation action. There are 636,000 undocumented immigrants who entered as children and many of them were unaware they were undocumented. DACA allows those who were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012 and came to the US before their 16th birthday and continuously resided in the US since June 15, 2007 and was physically present in the US on June 15, 2012 and are currently in school, graduated or obtained a certificate of high school completion, GED, honorably discharged veteran of U.S. Coast Card or Armed Forces and have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more misdemeanors and do not pose a threat to national security of public safety. The proposed bills would allow these children who are now adults to permanently be able to reside in the U.S. and obtain citizenship.

There are other bills including the Dignity Program sponsored by Rep Maria Elvira Salazar – R-Florida that allows undocumented immigrants who have lived in US for at least 5 years to be able to work legally while paying $1,000 into a fund supporting job training for American worker. After 10 years, they would be eligible for a redemption program requiring civics education and community service.

As you can see there are many proposed laws that are geared towards providing citizenship for undocumented workers. It’s been 35 years since the last immigration reform law but I am still hopeful that a law will be passed that will enable 10.5 million undocumented immigrants to be able to live in the U.S. free from fear and allow them to reunite with their families.

Protecting My Passenger

Q: If I am pulled over and I have a passenger who is not a legal American citizen, how do I protect them or make sure nothing serious happens to them? Haley from California

A: If you are pulled over, it is likely that you are being pulled over related to a traffic citation, and not by ICE. However, this may vary if you are near a border. If you are pulled over by police, it is better that you drive away with a ticket, rather than being arrested or detained, which will increase the chances that ICE is contacted. Accordingly, to maximize a safe and prompt conclusion to the stop, it is advisable to:

o Stop the vehicle and turn on the emergency lights – Slowly lower the window and place your hands in a visible location.

o Have access to and if asked, show your license, proof of insurance and registration.

o If the officer asks to search the vehicle, you have the right to refuse the search. If you do exercise this right, do so by clearly stating that you do not consent to the search.

In most cases, the guidance above, will minimize the chances of ICE involvement and lead to a prompt conclusion of the stop. That said, as a matter of precaution, or if the officer seeks to prolong the stop or inquire about your passenger’s immigration status or if you are pulled over by border patrol (possible if you are within 100 miles of a US border), some additional precautions are provided below, if advisable and safe.

If your passenger is a lawful resident of the United States, even if they are not a United States Citizen, ensure that the individual has access to any documentation evidencing their lawful status. They should not be carrying any false documents, and should not provide any false documents to law enforcement. Generally, it’s not recommended to show foreign ID’s, such as law passports, to law enforcement.

Inform your passenger to remain calm, and that they have certain rights under the US constitution regardless of their immigration status. You can help by ensuring that you or your passenger has a know your rights card. The know your rights card should state that the 1 individual is exercising their right to remain silent. The passenger may provide the card to the officer if questioned about their immigration status.

If the individual does not have a know your rights card, you could inform your passenger that they have the right to remain silent, and to refuse to speak with the officer unless they have an immigration attorney present. Among other things, the passenger has the right to refuse to answer any questions about their immigration status, where they were born, or how they entered the US.

If the passenger does not have a know your rights card, and would like to exercise their right to silent, does not speak English, and you are able to translate, you may ask your passenger if they would like to assert their right to remain silent and right to attorney, and communicate that to the stopping officer on their behalf, if the officer attempts to question the passenger.

You may also inform your passenger that they have the right to refuse to sign any immigration related documents provided to them. They may ask to have any documents translated for them.

If the police officer does not indicate why you are being stopped, ask politely why your vehicle was stopped. Once the traffic-related purpose of the stop has been resolved, wait to see if the officer tells you if you are free to go. If the officer does not, you may ask if you and your passenger are free to go. If the officer says no, ask if you and your passenger are being detained.

Finally, you, as the driver, should not answer any questions regarding your passenger’s immigration status.