Assert Rights, Activists Urge Immigrants

Susan Ferriss, Sacramento Bee, July 19, 2007

Attorney Mark Silverman pointed a finger toward a rapt audience of undocumented immigrants at Our Lady of Guadalupe Roman Catholic Church in Sacramento.

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You might be illegal immigrants, the attorney told the crowd of some 200 people. But under the U.S. Constitution, he said, you have the right to keep your door closed and to tell agents to leave if they’re searching for a different person and have a warrant only for that person.

With the recent collapse of a federal immigration overhaul in Washington—and no revival in sight—immigrant activists across the country are regrouping, training illegal immigrants on the nuances of the Bill of Rights and imploring Americans to rethink solutions to illegal immigration.

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The pressures that create illegal migration are only going to get worse, Silverman said. Family-based visas are backlogged for years, encouraging people to trek to the United States without visas in order to reunite their families. U.S. businesses continue to complain that with virtually no visas available for most nonprofessional jobs, it’s nearly impossible to legally hire foreigners even if they prove a labor shortage.

On top of that, Silverman said, more Mexicans likely will immigrate illegally next year once free-trade pacts allow unlimited amounts of corn and other U.S. farm products into Mexico, putting further economic pressure on Mexican farmers.

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Some groups are distributing wallet-sized tip sheets so immigrants will know what rights they can invoke. Others are holding forums such as the one featuring Silverman that a religious network, Sacramento Area Congregations Together, organized Monday night.

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In addition to urging passive resistance to agents who appear at homes, Silverman said, attorneys are preparing new challenges to techniques ICE has used with greater frequency as part of its “fugitive operations.”

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California-based ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice dismissed Silverman’s claims.

“The bottom line,” Kice said, “is that any noncitizen who is in the United States is required to have proof of a legal right to be in the United States with them at all time.”

Agents can’t force someone to talk, Kice agreed, but if agents have “reasonable suspicion” that someone might be here illegally—they’re in the same house or appear to be a family member—then agents are empowered to ask questions and to detain that person.

Kice said, too, that ICE attorneys argue that the Fifth Amendment does not apply to those questioned about their status during the course of a home search.

The Fifth Amendment, she said, applies to people seeking to avoid self-incrimination in criminal cases, not in cases of immigration violations, which are noncriminal.

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