M.E.Ch.A., AFSC explain immigrant rights

Caleb Danielson

M.E.Ch.A., a student activist group at San Diego City College, held a “Know Your Rights” workshop on Feb. 15 in the Math and Social Sciences Building. A guest speaker explained how immigration enforcement works in the county and what immigrants can do to protect themselves from deportation.

The guest speaker was Benjamin Prado, who is the program coordinator for the San Diego U.S.-Mexico Border Program of the American Friends Service Committee. The U.S.-Mexico Border Program was created to “secure human rights and self-determination for migrants and border communities,” according to its website.

The atmosphere in the room was tense throughout the meeting, but especially when Prado showed videos of raids and described the deportation process. Over a dozen questions were asked by members of the audience.

Prado told the 50 or so people in the audience, “Your most important right is the right to remain silent.” He said that, if stopped and questioned on the street, people have the right to ask why they are being questioned and whether or not they are being detained. He also said that people are not required to give police or immigration agents any information other than their name.

If a person is detained, Prado said that they should exercise their rights to speak with a lawyer and make a phone call.  He also said that everyone should have a plan for what to do if they are detained. He asked the audience, “Who will you call? Who will contact your lawyer?”

He said that people should try to communicate as much information as possible during their call, including which agency detained them and where they are being held.

There are three main federal agencies responsible for immigration enforcement, according to Prado: Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS). However, he said that CIS mainly handles applications for citizenship and visas, making it more of a bureaucracy than an enforcement agency.

Agency regulations give CBP jurisdiction over any part of the United States within 100 miles of a land or coastal border. Since much of the U.S. population lives near the coast, CBP has authority over about two thirds of Americans, according to the ACLU.

President Donald Trump is seeking to increase the effectiveness of the country’s immigration enforcement efforts, in part by directing ICE to hire 10,000 additional immigration officers. This would increase the size of the agency by 50 percent.

Trump is also looking to crack down on so-called sanctuary jurisdictions. He has threatened to cut funding to cities and states that do not cooperate with immigration enforcement efforts. Prado said that Trump “wants to make every agency a ‘migra’ agency.” Migra is the word in Spanish for immigration police or border patrol.

Prado, M.E.Ch.A.’s guest speaker, explained that the main function of ICE is to investigate people suspected of living in the country illegally and to conduct raids in order to detain and deport such individuals.

Prado played footage of ICE investigations and raids in San Diego that were videotaped by him and his colleagues. He said that the videos of agents staking out people’s homes and searching public buses showed that ICE was entering immigrant neighborhoods and “terrorizing our communities.” He described ICE tactics as a form of “psychological warfare.”

Prado encouraged the audience to respond to these tactics by organizing within their communities. He said that people should videotape raids, make an emergency plan with their family and share information about legal rights.

“It’s important to know that there are only two entities that can deport you,” said Prado. The two entities, he said, are yourself and an immigration judge. When someone is detained by immigration authorities, he said, they can only be deported by an immigration judge, unless they sign a voluntary departure form.

This means that, in most cases neither ICE nor CBP has the authority to deport people living in the country illegally. Instead, immigration officials can refer detained individuals to the court system or convince them to leave on their own by signing a voluntary departure form.

“We usually recommend, ‘don’t sign anything unless you’ve spoken with an attorney,’” Prado said. However, he also said that people living in the country without legal permission are not entitled to a public defender. He recommended that those who need legal assistance find an honest lawyer; he said that immigrant advocate organizations often have a list of reputable attorneys.

In an executive order on Jan. 25, Trump ordered the Department of Homeland Security to prioritize the removal of anyone living in the country illegally who has been convicted of a crime or who has “been charged with any criminal offense,” anyone who has misrepresented themselves to a government agency, or anyone who “in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose(s) a risk to public safety or national security.”

These priorities, in addition to others listed in the executive order, give ICE broad discretion to deport people for even minor crimes.

Prado said that his organization focuses on preparing people for what to do if they are confronted by immigration officers, because once they are detained, it is easy to be put on track for deportation. “Either they (immigrants) are going to know their rights, defend their rights, (and) exercise their rights, or they’re going to get caught up in the system,” Prado said.