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Advocates battle fear with information

Updated: Dec 4, 2019

A briefing on the rights of immigrants gave students and those in the community information they need to know.

By Solomon Smith, Managing Editor

Photo by Solomon Smith/The Valley Star

The recent “Know Your Rights” presentation in Monarch Hall offered an hour-long session on immigrant rights in order to alleviate fear about upcoming Supreme Court cases.

Daniel Sharp, legal director for the Central American Resource Center, spoke to a crowd of 60 people touching on cases headed to the Supreme Court. Of the handful of cases that affect immigrants, the elimination of DACA may be the most important. However, Sharp focused on the rights of immigrants today and sought to make the oft-muddy legal area of immigration law clear.

Sharp outlined three DACA possibilities: the law could be upheld, it could remain in limbo, or it could be overturned. DACA, which allows persons who were brought illegally to the United States as minors to remain as residents and offers a path to citizenship, will reach the high court on Nov. 12.

“Even if we get a really bad decision,” said Sharp, “we are encouraging people to renew their DACA status.”

The presentation mentioned programs that offer help filling out or paying for the fee to renew their DACA status, which is $495, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. State programs found through organizations like Caracen and the Valley Foundation can also help students find ways to pay the fee.

According to Sharp, it is important for those who may be deported to speak to their families about what to do should that happen. In recent years, ICE has increased the number of raids and arrests, striking fear in immigrant community.

“If there’s a knock on the door and there is an ICE agent asking to see someone they have to have an order,” Sharp said. “You don’t have to let them in.”

Sharp added that ICE needs a warrant to enter a home, and constitutional rights do not depend on immigration status. Residents do not have to speak to authorities, especially when they are in their own home.

He also reviewed family petition programs, one of which First Lady Melania Trump used to gain her parents citizenship. Sharp explained it simply and thoroughly, stating that the wait times for green cards and many other programs can be long, as each country has a limit in the type and number that can be issued. The wait for someone from Mexico, for example, can be as long as 25 years.

The immigrants’ rights advocate also warned participants about marijuana. Though legal in many states, it is still a federal crime. It can endanger an immigrant’s status, even when it is legal in the state in which they live. This also includes the paraphernalia used to smoke marijuana in some cases. Sharp’s general advice: “don’t do it.”

One of the most controversial and misunderstood aspects of immigration law has been the idea of public charge, or persons dependent upon federal or state aid and assistance.The Trump administration, in an effort to move to a merit-based form of immigration, has taken steps to reduce immigrants who may be viewed as public charges. This may also be one of the many cases brought up during the much anticipated Nov. 12 Supreme Court hearing. The changes were banned by federal courts last October.

The idea of public charge has frightened many immigrants from using services that are available to them, which Sharp’s organization tries to connect them to. Many immigrants fear that using emergency medical services, food stamps or health care may endanger their status; they do not have any effect on the status of those already here.

“We’ve also seen legal residents not apply for assistance because they were warned it would affect their status,” Sharp said.

As a final warning, Sharp talked about those who prey on immigrants seeking help. Many immigrants do not speak English and can find the complicated language of federal paperwork daunting. They often seek the help of a guide called a “noticeria,” or public notaries, who are not lawyers.

“One of the biggest problems that we see at Caracen are these people,” notes Sharp. “You should not go see them for immigration legal advice, and if they are giving you advice they are breaking the law.”

Students and members of the community who attended the event were reticent to talk about their legal status or even give their names for fear of retribution, but many were grateful for the talk.

“This is very important for me to know for my children,” said one unidentified listener. She and her husband brought their children with them.

Valley student Eladio was excited and relieved to hear much of the information. He spoke little English and is currently taking non-credit courses.

“They came to our classes and told us about it,” Eladio said. “ I came because I want to learn more.”

Andra Hoffman, president of the LACCD Board of Trusteeswas one of the first people to speak to the audience and brought a message from the LACCD board.

“The school cares about you and not your legal status,” said Hoffman, an Valley alumna.

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