Austin City Council Member Greg Casar and several immigrant rights groups gathered Saturday in North Austin to teach immigrants how to respond if they are targeted in federal raids.
“We as a local government have the responsibility and duty to help the immigrant community,” Casar said in Spanish to about 30 attendees. “We know that these raids are coming from the federal government, but that does not mean that we don’t have any power and that we can’t teach our people that they have rights.”
The event at St. John’s Episcopal Church — held in conjunction with Grassroots Leadership, ICE Out of Austin and the University of Texas Law School Immigration Clinic — educated immigrants at risk of deportation about their rights if they were approached by an immigration enforcement officer.
“We believe that knowledge is power and we all have constitutional rights regardless of immigration status,” said Elissa Steglich, a UT immigration law professor.
Federal raids in January, she said, were part of an effort to deport thousands of women and children who crossed the border in the summer of 2014 to escape violence in Central American countries. Under those deportation orders, about 6,000 people in Texas are targeted, and nearly 80 percent of those will not have access to an immigration lawyer, she said.
“We see that the people who fall victim to these raids are those who do not know their rights or have the funds to pay for a lawyer,” Steglich told the crowd.
To address that, the training event played out scenarios involving an immigration official at an immigrant’s door. Organizers told the crowd that unless the official had a signed judge’s order, they don’t need to open the door. They also advised participants to withhold from speaking to the official until they are able to acquire a lawyer.
However, event organizers emphasized that people should never lie to an immigration official. They said immigrants could provide their name and date of birth if asked to identify themselves. But if asked to provide a Social Security number, ID card or other documents, they could defer to their lawyers, organizers said.
“You can also ask the official if you are under arrest,” said Alejandro Caceres of Grassroots Leadership. “If they say you are not, then you can simply walk away and avoid any other contact with them.”
Travis County Constable Sally Hernandez, who is running for sheriff, attended the event. She has pledged to end the county’s participation in a federal program that allows Immigration and Customs Enforcement to monitor who is booked into the Travis County Jail and extend the detention of inmates suspected of being unauthorized immigrants.
“I firmly believe that policy undermines the cooperation that law enforcement needs from the immigrant community,” Hernandez said. “We have to work with the immigrant community, and the only way to do that is to end ICE’s presence in our jails.”
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