Many immigrant families in the U.S. live with the fear that their loved ones will be detained on very short notice during Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) raids. Just this week, a Proskauer pro bono volunteer answered a call to the Immigration Helpline from a woman seeking help after her undocumented husband was arrested and detained by officials she feared were immigration officers. She did not know why he was taken, where she could go to see him, and whether he was going to be incarcerated or deported.
Unfortunately, this caller’s experience is commonplace under U.S. immigration policy. In July 2019, the federal government announced nationwide ICE raids targeting immigrant families in major U.S. cities. At the time, the President characterized the coordinated raids as a “major operation,” threatening to send undocumented and other removable immigrants into detention and out of the country. Shortly after the President’s announcement, Proskauer pro bono attorneys and staff sprung to action, working through the weekend, to answer calls from immigrants fearing these raids.
We were prepared to act because, two years earlier, we had launched our partnership with The Legal Aid Society of New York’s Immigration Helpline, a hotline open to immigrants across the U.S. who seek information about the constitutional rights they hold regardless of their immigration status.
Today, these continued ICE raids pose additional threats in light of COVID-19 as immigration detention centers are often ill-prepared to prevent the disease’s spread, and some immigrants avoid seeking medical care because they fear immigration enforcement.
As U.S. immigration policy continues to evolve rapidly in ways that place immigrants further at risk of raids and removal, Proskauer continues staffing The Legal Aid Society’s Immigration Helpline once per week in a rotational schedule with other pro bono law firms. Helpline volunteers assist callers by ensuring they know and understand their constitutional rights, and by providing referrals for representation in connection with immigration proceedings. Over the years, the helpline services have expanded to provide callers with information about public charge rules, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) petitions, and other emerging issues affecting immigrant communities.
Since 2017, pro bono volunteers have answered more than 3,000 calls to the Immigration Helpline.
Every resident of the United States—including undocumented immigrants—holds due process protections. Proskauer’s hotline volunteers have advised callers of the following rights to help them feel better prepared in case of an ICE raid:
- You have the right to leave if not detained. If approached by an officer, you can ask “Am I free to go?” If the answer is yes, you may walk away.
- You have the right to remain silent. You do not have to answer any questions or disclose your immigration status. Any of this information may later be used against you. While you should never lie to an officer, you can tell them you are excising your right to remain silent and decline to answer questions.
- You have the right to speak to an attorney. Although the government is not required to provide you an attorney, you can ask for a list of free or low-cost legal service providers.
- You have the right to refuse a searched absent a judicial warrant. ICE may not conduct a search without a warrant issued by a judge. If an officer attempts to search your person, vehicle, or home without a warrant, indicate aloud that you do not consent to the search.
- You have the right to an interpreter. You should not answer any questions, or sign any documents you do not understand. Instead, ask for an interpreter’s assistance.
We are “A Nation of Immigrants,” and with anti-immigrant sentiment on the rise, Proskauer is proud of its continued partnership with The Legal Aid Society and its work to empower all immigrants in the United States with the knowledge of their rights under our Constitution.