Advocates, lawyers try to prepare for unclear immigration future

Advocates, lawyers try to prepare for unclear immigration future

Iliana Santillán-Carrillo, of El Pueblo, works with members of Raleigh’s immigration community to teach the basics of North Carolina and federal law at a meeting Monday. (Photos by Melissa Boughton.)
Iliana Santillán-Carrillo, of El Pueblo, works with members of Raleigh’s immigration community to teach the basics of North Carolina and federal law at a meeting Monday. (Photos by Melissa Boughton.)

The future of immigrants in America is uncertain, to say the least. As the fear of mass deportations grows, so does the likelihood that immigrant communities will be forced to shrink back into the shadows.

President-elect Donald Trump made his stance on immigration clear during the election: he threatened more deportations, touted a plan to build an extensive wall between America and Mexico, and said he would add U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers and end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

In addition, Trump’s racist rhetoric during his campaign and subsequent cabinet picks (i.e. Steve Bannon, who has deep ties to the growing white nationalist movement) has changed the climate for immigrant communities, and particularly the Latinx community.

Bertha Lopez, of Raleigh, said this week that in addition to worrying about her own future in America, she worries more now about her children’s future.

“I feel sad because the new president[-elect] is so racist and all the people he wants in his cabinet- it’s a sign for what’s coming,” she said.

She said her children are already bearing the brunt of some discrimination at school. They’ve been told to “go back to Mexico,” and have had to avoid fights with other kids, she said.

“The problem starts in the schools,” she added.

Lopez’s response is to tell her children to learn more about the history of this country and about their heritage. She tells them to know their rights and to stand up for themselves.

“I try to teach my kids, OK you’re born here, but you know where you came from, so don’t forget that,” she said.

While dealing with discrimination is one issue, and the fear of policy changes is another, Lopez, who has been in America since 1999, said seeing how fast outright bigotry reared after the election makes her less optimistic about overall changes to come for immigrants under the new administration.

“So many things start happening now,” she said. “[Immigrants] need to know about the law, know what is their rights and they need to know more about the politics and the people and know about history.”

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El Pueblo, a local non-profit dedicated to strengthening the Latino community and promoting cross-cultural understanding, held a post-election recap meeting Monday to analyze what happened during the election and what it might mean for the future of the North Carolina’s immigrant communities.

Guest speakers were Mónica Colín from the Mexican Consulate in Raleigh and immigration attorney Jenny Doyle. El Pueblo Executive Director Angeline Echeverría and Community Organizer Iliana Santillán-Carrillo interpreted the meeting for NC Policy Watch.

El Pueblo Executive Director Angeline Echeverría teaches a group of people about the executive branch of government at a meeting Monday at the non-profit’s office in Raleigh.
El Pueblo Executive Director Angeline Echeverría teaches a group of people about the executive branch of government at a meeting Monday at the non-profit’s office in Raleigh.

The biggest pieces of advice to come from the meeting were for immigrants to be as prepared as possible and to talk to an attorney familiar with immigration law before any problems arise.

“We know that there’s uncertainty and anxiety, and we have to worry but not too much because nothing has happened yet,” Colín said. “We [at the Consulate] have a lot of resources and information. We have to be prepared for what might happen, and we have to have our documents.”

She answered questions about how immigrants can get identification and birth certificates and about the Consulate’s database. She also spoke about how more than ever, it was important particularly for the undocumented immigrant community to obey all laws and avoid contact with law enforcement.

The Mexican consulate issues identification, but North Carolina House Bill 318 last year outlawed recognition by officials, including law enforcement. That ID is known as Matrícula Consular.

Echeverría then led discussion and activities about how American government and politics work. She went over the three branches of government and checks and balances.

“It really helped people understand some of the basics,” she said after the meeting. “I think what we’re hearing from a lot of people, and not just the immigrant community, but LGBTQ, women, is that they feel powerless. One way to address that is by having access to information.

“Yeah, this is a scary time for the immigrant community … but knowing some of the basics about the checks and balances already gives a little relief. They feel just a little better knowing more information and that together, we’re going to take action.”

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Doyle highlighted some of the key expected changes under the new administration. The first and most worrisome, she said, was DACA. That program, established under the Obama administration, helps undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and meet certain guidelines receive deferred action from deportation for two years and gives them eligibility for a work permit.

There are nearly 750,000 undocumented people ages 15 to 31 who have received relief and work permits through DACA.

Doyle said there are several possibilities regarding the fate of the program under Trump’s administration: 1. The program continues to allow current DACA beneficiaries to renew but ends new applications. 2. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) could be instructed to stop accepting new applications and renewals, and the program is phased out as work permits expire. 3. The new administration immediately terminates the program in January, revoking current permits and putting beneficiaries at risk of losing jobs, being deported and accumulating illegal residence subject to punishment.

“The good news is, only so many people can be deported and they may not go after DACA people because they’re not criminals and they’re working and contributing to their communities,” Doyle said.

Raul Pinto, a staff attorney at the North Carolina Justice Center who works on the Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, agreed that the best advice for anyone with immigration issues, and particularly DACA beneficiaries, is to speak with an attorney.

“We are strategizing about how we really respond without having a lot of information about what this new administration will bring,” he said. “We are trying to get [information to] folks who have DACA and people who have a path to permanent residency.”

DACA is Pinto’s biggest concern, along with how deportation priorities could change. Trump has said that his focus will be on criminal aliens, but there has been no clear cut definition of what that means, Pinto said.

Currently, undocumented immigrants with felonies are the Department of Homeland Security’s biggest priorities for deportation. They’re followed by immigrants with significant misdemeanors, such as domestic violence and driving while intoxicated. Undocumented immigrants with no criminal record are at the bottom of the priority list.

“We’re keeping a close eye on how those priorities will change,” Pinto said. “It is going to be super important that people who are undocumented talk to an attorney.”

Doyle also spoke of other possible program changes under the new administration, which can be viewed here.

A list of considerations she gave at the meeting for immigrants to take can be found here.

“I don’t know if these things are going to happen,” Doyle said. “It’s like trying to prepare for a hurricane.”

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Doyle, Pinto, Colín and Echeverría warned steadfastly for immigration communities to be leery of fraud, particularly when it comes to notaries, or notarios. They often represent themselves as qualified to offer legal advice but can ultimately cause more problems for immigrants.

“The term ‘notario publico’ is particularly problematic in that it creates a unique opportunity for deception,” according to the American BAR Association. “While a notary public in the United States is authorized only to witness the signature of forms, a notary public in many Latin American (and European) countries refers to an individual who has received the equivalent of a law license and who is authorized to represent others before the government.”

Echeverría said there is a lot of fraud when it comes to vulnerable communities, and “there is no community more vulnerable right now” than immigrants.

“Be very vigilant,” she said.

Leon Padilla, a Latino who lives in Raleigh, attended the Monday meeting to get a feel for the vibe of his community after the elections.

“I’m not certain at all about the future,” he said. “I guess everyone will have to wait and see.”

Padilla added that he encourages other members of his community to pay attention, be aware and be prepared.

“I try to engage people to come to these meetings,” he added.

For more information about the Mexican Consulate and its services, residents can call 919-615-3653; to make an appointment for an identification or Matrícula Consular, call 1-877-639-4835. For help finding an attorney familiar with immigration law, visit http://www.ailalawyer.org/. For help finding a Department of Justice Board of Immigration Appeals representative, visit http://www.ailalawyer.org/.