As possible ICE raids loom, NYC immigrants are urged to know their rights

Many New York City groups have bolstered their resources for immigrants in anticipation of expected ICE raids.

Immigration advocates in New York City are ramping up their efforts to prepare communities for a looming nationwide deportation sweep by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that ICE would be raiding at least 10 major cities as early as Sunday, targeting undocumented immigrants with the aim of immediately removing them from the United States.

To prepare for this, many New York City groups have bolstered their resources for immigrants and stepped up efforts to inform them of their legal rights.

“We see this latest Trump attack for what it is: an attempt to resurrect his failed family separation policy from last summer and a re-election tactic to excite his base,” Hasan Shafiqullah, attorney-in-charge for the Legal Aid Society’s immigration law unit, said in a statement.

The Legal Aid Society said it would make its helpline available seven days a week, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., to New York City residents in need of assistance in light of the expected ICE raids. Immigrants and families calling on their behalf can receive legal advice from volunteers on the line, many of whom are from large law firms.

Those detained in Bergen and Hudson County jails in New Jersey and in Orange County Jail in New York may be given an attorney to represent them, the Legal Aid statement adds.

Other organizations have continued offering their traditional services with a heightened urgency on social media. The Immigrant Defense Project, which dedicates much of its efforts to analyzing ICE’s enforcement tactics, offers a multitude of materials for free on its website, including infographics, posters and flyers, that describe what to do if approached or arrested in several languages.

A 52-page tool kit is also provided by the organization to explain the history of ICE enforcement and the strategies it has used.

“We’ve just seen in the last four years — in the last two years, even — a shift in tactics,” said Genia Blaser, a senior staff attorney at the organization. “… They’re not identifying themselves as immigration. They’re using a lot of force.”

Blaser said the increased use of force has been both verbal and physical, knocking doors down and harming people involved in raids. People are being approached on their way to work, she said, as well as in their own homes.

Immigrants approached by ICE have a legal right to remain silent, even when prompted for their immigration status, place of birth or criminal record. They have a right to speak to an attorney. They do not have to sign any papers. They do not have to present documents, including passports, unless the person asking has a court-ordered warrant.

ICE declined to detail specifics about its enforcement operations in a statement issued on Friday. 

“One of the primary reasons President Trump announced these raids was to instill fear,” said Anu Jhoshi, senior director of immigrant rights policy at the New York Immigration Coalition.

Jhoshi said her organization has been distributing tool kits in local churches and community organizations to inform undocumented immigrants and their families of their rights, with the materials available in 12 languages.

Some state representatives have also distributed materials in their communities, including Sen. Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris (D-District 12). Gianaris’ office has distributed "know your rights" packets among senior centers and community organizations in western Queens.

"Right now, the most important service we can provide is to inform people how not to be taken advantage of by ICE, which is an agency run amok," Gianaris said on Friday.

Brooklyn Defender Services has also employed a media element in partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union through animated videos that inform viewers of what to do when approached by ICE at their door, in their home or on the street.

Other organizations, like the New York Legal Assistance Group, have been reaching out to perceived “priority” targets to explain their legal rights, according to Fernando Andrade, a paralegal for the group’s immigrant protection division.

“Most people think that only citizens have rights,” he said. “They don’t need to open their door. They have the right to remain silent.”

Many of the organizations encourage ICE detainees to call the state Office for New Americans hotline at 800-566-7636. New York City’s ActionNYC hotline is 800-354-0365.

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